BOSTON-Multiple surveys portray a sluggish first quarter in the North Station office market, but at least one broker has a contrary assessment supported by a plethora of recently linked leases, including several that pushed their buildings to full occupancy.

Having participated in many of those Q1 transactions, Karyn McFarland of Grubb & Ellis is effusive about North Station’s opening frame although she tells there has been a more recent drop in demand. “Things were really active, but it has slowed down considerably over the past three weeks” McFarland relays.

Possible reasons cited by some professionals include an uncertain economy and theory that it might pay to “sit on the sidelines a bit,” a sentiment that McFarland does not share. North Station’s average asking rent has trended up to $31 per sf, and some deals are now cresting over the $40 per sf level, the broker explains. “I think it’s a temporary lull,” she says of the present slide. Tenants facing imminent lease expirations will have to act soon, she adds, especially since many have already delayed decision making in the face of a record run-up in rents in 2007.

North Station has proven a welcomed outlet for those seeking rent relief, according to McFarland. Advertising firms, communications companies and publishing groups are hailing from the Back Bay, uprooted by the highest asking rents in New England while East Cambridge tenants are being lured from across the Charles River. And, they’re often emerging companies seeking a young employee base. McFarland says those firms in particular like North Station’s similar architecture, a major commuter rail transit center and vibrant nightlife anchored by the Boston Garden. Meanwhile, she says “law firms are absolutely taking notice of North Station” as an alternative to Boston’s pricey Financial District, barely a five minute walk away.

Despite the diverse interest, three of four Boston office market reports show negative net absorption in North Station during the first quarter, with the most dour being minus 23,000 sf tracked by DTZ FHO Partners. CB Richard Ellis registered negative 22,000 sf. Jones Lang LaSalle has absorption down by 11,000 sf whereas Richards Barry Joyce & Partners put a positive spin at plus 19,000 sf. Variants in survey samplings and how availabilities are recorded account for the differing results, with the reports covering from 1.6 million sf to 2.8 million sf.

Vacancy rates are a better gauge of North Station’s health, McFarland says, adding the market reviews all show tight conditions in that regard. Estimates range from 7.2% in the CBRE survey to 11.2% by DTZ FHO Partners, which also puts class A space for North Station at a scant 1.6% vacancy.

One high-end option is no longer available to prospective tenants at 226 Causeway St. since a lease of 7,800 sf brings the office portion of that building to full occupancy, according to McFarland. The deal to an unnamed company supposedly was in the low $40 per sf range, among the highest rates historically for that submarket. The office portion of the mixed-use 226 Causeway St. is owned by the Archon Group. Thomas Ashe of Richards Barry Joyce & Partners was said to have brokered the lease. Ashe was unavailable to discuss the deal.

Elsewhere in North Station, 100 North Washington St. is also now 100% leased. Owned by A.W. Perry Inc., the six-story, 53,000-sf building has had an aggregate of 20,000 sf filled this year. McFarland represented A.W. Perry in a 9,000-sf lease by information company Centerwatch while ManageSoft and GCom2 Solutions each took more than 5,000 sf.

McFarland brokered 151 Merrimac St. in the leasing of 13,000 sf to Massachusetts General Hospital, also filling that building. At nearby 200 Portland St., a professional lacrosse team that will play at the TD BankNorth Garden is said to be taking the remaining 6,000 sf. North Station “is definitely getting attention,” says McFarland, who personally has brokered nearly 400,000 sf of leases and renewals there in the past two years.

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