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NORTH READING, MA-A 50,000-sf agreement is helping kick start the 2008 leasing season here along the Interstate 93 corridor. Premium Power Corp. is committing to five years at 87 Concord St, a single-story flex/R&D building owned by Howland Development Co. of Wilmington.

“We’re pretty happy about it,” relays Howland Associate Ken Oppenheim, who represented the landlord in-house with company principal William Yetman. Gary Finlayson was agent for Premium Power, which markets energy storage systems. Headquartered in North Andover, the firm will occupy about 90% of the 60,000-sf North Reading building. The agreement also paved the way for an 8,000-sf lease at Howland’s 155 West St. in Wilmington to accommodate a previous occupant of 87 Concord St.

The northern sector of Boston’s flex/R&D market has undergone dramatic swings this decade, including a brutal stretch from 2001 to 2005, but Oppenheim says Howland enjoyed a brisk 2007. “Things are going well,” Oppenheim tells GlobeSt.com, as evidenced by the firm’s leasing of all but a few thousand sf in its 1.5 million-sf portfolio. The velocity is credited partly to expanding technologies and emerging companies such as Premium Power, which has filled multiple locations locally since its founding in 2002.

The North flex/R&D submarket apparently saved its best for the home stretch, with Jones Lang LaSalle estimating 107,000 sf of positive net absorption in the fourth quarter, enough to put the submarket of 6.5 million sf slightly on the plus side for 2007. The vacancy rate dipped to 15.1%, keeping it better than the overall suburban average of 18.3% for 40.7 million sf tracked by JLL.

That vacancy rate along I-93 is substantially better than the 22.7% average at year-end 2007 for both the Interstate 495 North and Northwest flex/R&D submarkets, but the JLL review also indicates those two sectors accounted for more than 700,000 sf of net absorption last year in a market that registered 745,000 sf in total. The Northwest, centered by Route 3, posted 588,000 sf on its own, helping increase the average asking rent to $11.61 per sf. That compares to an average rate of $10.68 per sf, says JLL. The North submarket averages $9.37 per sf.

Founded by Michael Howland, the Howland Development Co. offers a mix of flex/R&D, industrial and office space, although the firm’s most visible accomplishment is a 490-unit multifamily complex constructed in partnership with AvalonBay Communities on a site overlooking I-93 in Woburn. Howland subsequently divested its share in that project to AvalonBay. The remaining portfolio is concentrated throughout I-93 North, including several flex and warehouse buildings in Wilmington at the Route 129 exit.

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