The Real Reporter
December 28, 2020
By Joe Clements
Boston - The trek began over two years ago and the finished vision will take at least as long to be realized, but a significant milestone is being celebrated in approval of a 21st century television studio for media staple WBZ being built under a joint venture between Mount Vernon Co. and National Development.
“This is an incredible project and it is exciting to see how far we have come,” MVC Chairman Bruce A. Percelay tells Real Reporter after gaining Boston Planning and Development Agency backing to replace WBZ’s landmark studio which has stood at 1170 Soldiers Field Rd. in Allston since 1948.
As abutter to the property that sits across Soldiers Field Road from the Charles River and a lush, linear parkway, Percelay recalls being approached by CRE advisor George Nugent of Newmark regarding ViacomCBS’’s desire to erect a new-age multimedia studio, setting off talks that culminated in WBZ agreeing to relocate onto MVC’s site at 1200 Soldiers Field Rd. and enabling MVC and National to re-imagine WBZ’s six-acre parcel once the studio is delivered next door.
“We are not thinking about that right now,” Percelay says of the other side of the amulet, with the focus now uploading the multimedia communications center that is designed by Gensler Architects. A groundbreaking date has not been set, but Percelay expresses confidence the Covid-19 tempest will not inexorably impact the project’s progress.
An award-winning multifamily developer and manager with a side job in hospitality ownership, Percelay says he felt confident taking on a project of WBZ’s girth but recognized the unique use cried out for a firm with a history of such undertakings. “This is as intricate and technical as building a hospital,” he remarks, fomenting an invite to National Development, a well-known homegrown firm with over 30 million sf developed regionally across multiple disciplines. “We had the option to partner with a variety of developers in the city and we chose National,” Percelay observes. “Their track record in doing large-scale projects, their capability in designing complex facilities, as well as their building trade expertise, made the choice very clear.”
On the latter element, National construction arm Cranshaw was “a key part” of the formula, says Percelay, as was National’s reputation for community outreach. “I can’t say enough about how helpful Brian and Ted have been,” he says of Managing Partners Brian Kavoogian and Theodore R. “Ted” Tye.
“Ted played a critical role winning support from the neighborhood and city and on (design and permitting) matters. . . while we focused on creating the opportunity by getting a deal worked out with CBS,” Percelay explains, with the latter process a measure of shuttle diplomacy between Boston and the media company’s headquarters in New York City that finally bore fruit. “We kept our heads down and got it done,” he recounts.
MVC and National are among metropolitan Boston’s most active private CRE firms and each has a history in Allston-Brighton, with the latter firm overhauling an aging movie complex and Ground Round Restaurant into a mixed-use project known as “The Circle” featuring a 162-room Marriott hotel, cinema, restaurants and senior housing. National is now knee-deep in an ambitious retail repositioning barely a half-mile away from 1200 Soldiers Field Rd. on the other side of the Massachusetts Turnpike.
A few blocks from that, Percelay is working on an MVC-conceived multifamily building at 35-43 Braintree St. that secured an equity partner this summer when Jones Street Investment Partners bought a majority position in the plan at which MVC has retained a stake. Boston Realty Advisors partner Nicholas M. Herz orchestrated that re-capitalization. Around the corner from that, Percelay’s group is targeting another site, 103 North Beacon St., as a future site for development.
Percelay’s firm is credited by many as a pioneer for a “New Wave” of institutional-grade real estate rising up this past decade from Harvard Avenue to Harvard Stadium and along the Western Avenue corridor connecting to Brighton Center, Cambridge, Newton and Watertown, with MVC’s most applauded effort to date being the Green District, restoration of a decaying Allston streetscape blocks from Brookline’s Coolidge Corner into a LEED-caliber enclave of housing, open space and retail amenities.
Percelay was familiar with NatDev’s vast book of business, perhaps most strikingly its signature remake of the South End’s former Boston Herald headquarters into The Ink Block. MVC got a first-hand experience when they struck a deal to swap a portion of the Green District on Brainard Road to a joint venture of National and ASB Real Estate Investments negotiated through Boston Realty Advisors. “They performed really well there,” says Percelay of National, “and it told me all I needed to know about how they go about their business.”
While retaining control of some Green District buildings, MVC from there set its sights on the emerging corridor from Brighton Center to Harvard Square and repurposed a vacant commercial block at Market Street and Western Avenue into the acclaimed Radius redevelopment with 132 sustainable aparments while separately acquiring a tiny office building around the corner at 1200 Soldiers Field Rd. before relocating company headquarters to that site which later attracted WBZ’s real estate advisor. The building was secured for $3.8 million in May 2017 just a few months before WBZ came calling.
As to the milestone step in building its new studio, WBZ-TV President and General Manager Mark Lund provided a prepared statement paying homage to “Boston’s first television station” in calling Soldiers Field Road “our home for over 70 years” from where “we have broadcast countless stories documenting the rich history of our great city, state and region.” As such, “WBZ-TV is thrilled to be partnering with National Development and The Mount Vernon Company to build a new multimedia broadcast center that will enable WBZ-TV/CBS Boston to leverage new technologies to serve our community.”