Revitalizing a Boston-area Multitenant Office Building

Spring 2015
Before photo: When Paradigm Properties acquired 56 Roland Street, it was an underutilized structure with an awkward entry wing (at left). That entry was demolished and relocated during Phase I of the renovation project.

Older buildings with history and character are prime targets for revitalization.

THE 156,000-SQUARE-FOOT, three-building property at 52-56 Roland Street in Charlestown, Massachusetts, was built in the early 1900s as an HP Hood milk processing plant. Since then, it has undergone multiple interior and exterior renovations and additions, which eventually resulted in its being divided into myriad small offices, some as small as 1,000 square feet. The latest renovation of the property is bringing new tenants, new jobs and new vitality to the neighborhood. It has transformed an underutilized property into one that offers top-quality space to start-ups and other firms in a recovering market with favorable lease rates, compared to space in Cambridge and downtown Boston.

Paradigm Properties chose to acquire the property because of its sense of history and character as well as its exceptional access to highways, public transit, downtown Boston and Logan International Airport, all of which are minutes away. The latest improvements, which were designed and constructed by TRO Jung|Brannen and Haynes Group Inc., respectively, included significant interior and exterior demolition as well as renovations to the north lobby, common areas, exterior facade and parking areas, as well as new landscaping and hardscaping.

exterior view of office building

After photo: Eye-catching facelifts can be critical to marketing renovated buildings. Photo by Bob Lodi, Rock Pixel Scissors Inc.

One of the plan’s top priorities involved preserving and exposing some historical elements of the structure while also incorporating current technologies and making new office suites more accessible, airy and efficient for tenants. In addition to a complete overhaul of the base building systems, the property has been rebranded under a new name, RS/56, reflecting an updated version of its street address.

Phase I of the renovation involved numerous challenges and opportunities, including the following:

Accommodating Existing Tenants

The project’s first challenge involved accommodating existing tenants, which remained in the building during the renovation, one of which occupied the small wing of 56 Roland Street scheduled for demolition. ECOlogic, a tenant in the building since 2002, provides environmentally friendly cleaning services for commercial carpeting, upholstery and office panels; it also offers an interactive facility management software application. ECOlogic’s space is used for offices, meeting rooms, storage and scheduling.

Recognizing that demolition activities could be disruptive to ECOlogic’s operations, Haynes Group designated a single person on site to communicate at all times with EGOlogic’s management so there would be no surprises. In addition, according to ECOlogic President Brett Van Beever, “Haynes Group was unique in their availability and flexibility in managing the project. They agreed to utilize our cloud-based facilities management software, envVisual, which made it much easier for us to communicate.”

Haynes Group President Bryan Haynes agreed, adding: “Listening and responding to our clients’ ideas is part of our culture and can be very productive. In this case, ECOlogic would enter issues and tasks into the software and our project manager would access the application, prioritize and complete the tasks and post the results in the system. This allowed us to have real time communication while reducing the number of face-to-face meetings required in the process.”

interior office space
interior office space

The renovated structure features large, open spaces divided by glass. Exposed ceilings, pipes and other elements add character.

ECOlogic remained on the building’s first floor, but moved from the old north entrance area to the front of the building, facing Roland Street. The firm’s new space is about the same size as its old space, but has much more natural light and a vastly improved layout and feel.

ECOlogic remains a satisfied tenant at the updated, rebranded building. Strong testimonials from the “first ones in” strengthen the overall marketing message. Another benefit to the project is the “ready built model” that ECOlogic’s space provides for prospective new tenants.

Reconfiguring Offices

The project’s second challenge resulted from the building’s existing layout, which consisted of many small suites, some with no windows, and a labyrinth of confusing corridors. The corridor configuration was the result of multiple poorly planned tenant suite build-outs that had taken place over time. All of the existing offices were demolished, enabling the creation of larger spaces with interior glass dividers and natural daylighting throughout. At the same time, a primary entry stairway on the northwest corner of the building was replaced in a central location. These two changes resulted in a simplified corridor system and transformed an old stairway area into rentable office space with corner office capabilities.

The renovation also exposed ceiling mechanicals and elements of the original structure in what Neil Middleton, principal of TRO Jung|Brannen, called a “brusk industrial elegance” that can be more comfortable than “sterile” modern offices. The sense of openness created by exposed ceilings flows into the offices’ more open design. Middleton noted that the transition to smaller single offices — which have shrunk from an average of 250 square feet per person in the 1980s to about 125 square feet today — has been driven as much by culture as by cost.

table of project facts

The project’s leasing team at the Boston office of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank explained that lease rates for space comparable to the pre-renovation offering would be in the mid-teens per square foot; the renovated, rebranded space will command rents in the high $20s or more (including free parking), half the rate of comparable space in Boston and Cambridge. 

Renovating Sustainably

Sustainability was important to the development team and to prospective tenants. (A target market for Paradigm was green tech, clean tech and innovation companies seeking light manufacturing, laboratory and office space.) The renovation therefore reused existing materials as much as possible. In one highly visible example, the steel I-beam from the building’s original loading dock was used to create a focal point for the rebranding effort. That beam and others now feature an edgy green RS/56 sign that creates a striking new building identity. Other sustainability-related features include LED lighting installations and refinished exposed concrete floors in some areas.

RS/56 already has attracted new green tech tenant the Finally Light Bulb Company, which leased 13,000 square feet on the third floor. The company, headed by founder and CEO John Goscha, plans to manufacture and sell a new line of energy efficient light bulbs. About 70,000 square feet remain available for lease.
Market demand clearly exists for buildings with character in favorable locations with open, affordable, collaborative workspace designs for entrepreneurial businesses. Future phases of this renovation project will continue to revitalize RS/56.

The next phase of the project will include the addition of a new set of restrooms in the building core as well as renovation of all existing restrooms and the south lobby. This phase will complete the landscaping, hardscaping, and new curbing and sidewalks on Roland Street. It also will include the installation of an exterior wall system with climbing vegetation on the east side of the building, near the main entrance.