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FRAMINGHAM, MA-Dogged by a lack of product, New England’s commercial real estate sales market is stumbling to one of its slowest starts this decade, but chances seem good that a prime hilltop site overlooking the Massachusetts Turnpike could be under agreement by quarter’s end, and possibly as soon as this week. The property at 125 Pennsylvania Ave. “is a signature location,” says Anthony Biette, part of the Grubb & Ellis Investment Sales Group representing the Memphis-based owner that recently shuttered International Paper’s facility there after decades in operation.

One source maintains that selection of a winner is “very close,” and claims the six-acre parcel attracted substantial attention from developers, investors and even potential users. The property at 125 Pennsylvania Ave. is in an industrial strip, but several prominent office buildings are located nearby, including the headquarters of Bose Corp. and multiple properties occupied by Genzyme Corp. The opportunity was initially detailed in a December 11 GlobeSt.com article that unveiled the asset’s pursuit by well-known Boston developer Dean Stratouly.

Calls to Stratouly were not returned by press deadline, and Biette would not acknowledge whether the Congress Group Ventures founder is a finalist for the property, as several sources are insisting. “It would not be prudent for me to comment in any way, shape or form,” says Biette, who also would not discuss other elements of the negotiations except to say that his client “is making sure the process runs its course.”

Biette, who is handling the sale with G&E SVP Hank Amabile, was less secretive about his thoughts for the opening quarter, one which he accedes pales in comparison to the frenetic start in 2007 and is below the five-year average for regional sales volume. Having surged from $69.5 million to $277 million in deals brokered from 2006 to 2007, G&E managing director Stephen Brodsky describes the most recent effort as “a breakout year” for the firm’s Investment Services Group. Nonetheless, Biette is already predicting that the Boston office will eclipse its record-breaking performance of 2007, insisting that the level of capital available will ultimately move owners off the sidelines.

“I am excited about 2007 and even more confident about 2008,” says Biette, who joined the firm in 2005 soon after Brodsky and Amabile were appointed to run the local operation. Among the first national real estate services firms to break into Boston in the 1980s, G&E lagged behind many competitors in property sales in recent years, overshadowed by powerhouse Boston teams at Cushman & Wakefield, CB Richard Ellis and Jones Lang LaSalle. While individuals such as Amabile and Jack Kerrigan mixed their leasing business with the occasional sales transaction, Brodsky acknowledges that G&E was largely a non-factor in Greater Boston’s sales arena but is striving to increase its exposure.

As evidenced by the Framingham assignment and the disposition of several significant assets last year, G&E has turned the corner, according to Brodsky. Among the highlights for 2007 was the sale of the Pearson Education campus in Reading, and the $116 million sale/leaseback of two medical office facilities in Downtown Boston on behalf of Tufts Medical Center. Brodsky credits new arrivals such as Biette and veteran Phil Giunta in bolstering the ISG’s stature, aided by Amabile’s lengthy career in that field. Biette cites Brodsky and Amabile for the surge of business, adding he believes the leadership’s emphasis on teamwork has paid off greatly, an effort underscored by the Transaction Services Team that supports ISG. The TST has veterans such as Kerrigan, Steve Cook and George Nugent available to advise buyers and sellers on market conditions and potential strategies for repositioning a property, something investors are increasingly interested in, according to Biette.

TST member Karyn McFarland played a key role in the sale of 133 Portland St. last year, for example, utilizing her lengthy knowledge of Boston’s North Station district. There was also an all-out G&E initiative to assist in the recent sale of 60 Wells Ave. in Newton, a $5.6 million transaction first reported by GlobeSt.com in the Feb. 26th edition.

Biette and Kerrigan helped the longtime owner divest the 32,000-sf building to Intrum Corp., and assisted the buyer in assessing the leasing market and formulating a plan to upgrade 60 Wells Ave. to compete in the high-end office market. The new owner subsequently hired Kerrigan and G&E brokers R. Patrick Carey and Dan Krysiak as exclusive leasing agents. “We really want to work our relationships and develop these full-cycle clients,” says Brodsky, voicing encouragement about the Wells Ave. opportunity. “I think we have had some real successes and look forward to more,” he says.

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