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ANDOVER, MA-Women’s footwear maker Sofft Shoe Inc. is about to cross the border from Hudson, NH, according to sources who claim the company is relocating to Brickstone Square, the three-building office complex visible from Interstate 495. A division of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the firm will lease nearly 40,000 sf.

Efforts to contact Sofft Shoe and its broker, Keith Gurtler of Jones Lang LaSalle, were unsuccessful by press deadline. Brickstone Square’s exclusive leasing agents, M&G senior Vice president Matthew Daniels and associate Christopher Lawrence, were also unavailable. Even so, industry sources insist Sofft Shoe has made its choice.

“It’s a nice win for Massachusetts,” says one industry professional tracking the negotiations. The agreement would also be a boon for Transwestern Investment Co., the Chicago-based concern that acquired Brickstone Square in late 2005 and has been preparing the property to take advantage of the region’s recovering office market.

Encompassing nearly one million sf, the park had substantial vacancy when Transwestern took ownership. The situation had become so acute that lender Lehman Brothers had taken the property back from the original developers, Brickstone Properties, following the demise of chief tenant CMGI. The venture capital firm whose fortunes plummeted along with the technology sector to begin the decade eventually walked away from 300,000 sf at Brickstone, leading to lender action. The empty space has trended down during the past 12 months and Brickstone Square reportedly is now approaching 75% occupancy.

New signage and physical plant upgrades have been made, notes one observer, who cites that investment and Transwestern’s “pro-active” approach for helping lure Sofft Shoe not just away from the Granite State, but also overriding competing proposals from other targeted properties in northern Massachusetts. Harvard Mills in Wakefield was on the short list, according to one broker, who concurs that Sofft Shoe has committed to Brickstone Square. “That is true,” says the source, who requested anonymity but termed Transwestern as “aggressive” in moving to secure Sofft Shoe.

The lease at Brickstone Square also signals that demand for space in the northern reaches of the state is heating up, although I-495 North joined other office submarkets in the region with a tepid opening quarter. According to JLL reports, the 10.4-million-sf submarket had negative net absorption of 47,000 sf in the first quarter, moving the vacancy rate up slightly to 24%, the highest by far of any suburban submarket. The next closest is 16.1% in the I-495 South sector, while the overall suburban average for 79.7 million sf tracked by JLL is 14.5%. The suburbs in general had a slow quarter, posting net absorption of just 6,000 sf. Four of the seven submarkets were in the red on net absorption, low-lighted by negative 155,000 sf in the South submarket.

Leases such as that to Sofft Shoe do bolster theories that the second quarter will be a busy one for suburban Boston. Not only are several other prospects said to be circling Brickstone Square, sources say the market in general is awash with tenants who have supposedly gotten the message that the rental rate erosion enjoyed by that group in the past four years has finally worked through and that the lack of new construction could lead to a sharp drop in space availability.

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