WELLESLEY—Beloved Wellesley Inn’s loss to a wrecking ball in 2006 remains a sore spot among many here, yet its $35 million replacement completed 10 years later has been universally embraced. The verve was evident when all 25 luxury residential condominiums sold out quickly at upwards of $3 million each while a 9,500-sf retail condominium acquired empty in Dec. 2016 for $5.17 million has attracted an impressive roster of tenants, all signing leases where the exclusive agent was Boston Realty Advisors.
That is the same brokerage which introduced owner Hi Neighbor LLC to the opportunity at Belclare Wellesley, and now Partner and retail practice group leader Michael d’Hemecourt acknowledges BRA has been engaged to sell the retail piece for clients Bernard Pucker and Suzanne Parker. Market watchers anticipate its price tag this time could be in the mid-$7 million range thanks to such trendy denizens renting The Shops at Belclare space as Agnes Optical, hair stylist Barber Walters, children’s store CouCou, La Mia Moda and upscale salon Lash L’Amour. A well-regarded residential agent, Laer Realty, also calls the development home.
In declining to comment on industry estimates, d’Hemecourt says 576 Washington St. will be pitched sans pricing guidance in anticipation of a response that will set its own bar. Still, the veteran retail expert concurs the cash-flowing nature of the 10-unit retail slice should enhance its value, praising his clients for accepting the risk after buying into the asset as part of a 1031 Exchange strategy following sale of a mixed-use building on Newbury Street in Boston that BRA was broker on as well.
Joseph Wagner Christopher Donato
That initial assignment harvesting 171 Newbury St. for $13.2 million prompted the Puckers to retain BRA in search of exchange properties, with other investments a retail condominium at 655 Tremont St. in Boston and a stand-alone CVS Pharmacy in Wellesley Hills. Working alongside BRA colleague Joseph Wagner, the lease-up of The Shops at Belclare “went about as expected,” d’Hemecourt says, with BRA filling all but two slots and getting encouraging action on the remaining space. “We felt good about the project and it got a very strong reaction from some really cool experiential retailers,” says d’Hemecourt.
One strategy he credits for the swift execution has been to offer smaller spaces—600 sf to 1,400 sf—than that typically seen in Wellesley. In so doing, d’Hemecourt says a “win-win” situation was created where the retailer is paying lower rent but at a higher price per-sf. “It is the way retail is going today, and we got a very positive reaction giving them those options,” says d’Hemecourt, allowing the town’s new kid on the block to take on established properties in Wellesley Square and elsewhere, including posh Linden Square.
Jason Weissman Whitney Gallivan Michael d’Hemcourt
As in many leafy suburbs west of Boston, Wellesley demographics have always been attractive to retailers, with BRA pegging the average household income at $244,165 among 6,865 families representing nearly 30,000 residents, 42.7 of whom possess a graduate degree. Increasing the ardor, d’Hemecourt observes, is a new crop of young families migrating out of urban centers who have become accustomed to retail phenomenons such as CouCou—which operates from Boston’s South End—and La Mia Moda Boutique and Lash L’Amour, each with a Newbury Street presence.
“There is a desire to be near the customers who they (cultivated) in Boston and make it more convenient to continue shopping with them,” relays d’Hemecourt. “We are seeing more of that, and expect that is going to continue as families keep moving to the suburbs.” Another nearby building in Church Square recently leased to restaurateur Smith & Wollensky, a move d’Hemecourt says is part of that trend but also came when another restaurant departed from the space and S&W jumped at the chance to dig into the Wellesley restaurant appetite.
Among the region’s most established suburban retail centers, Wellesley Square has been able to thwart the difficulties seen in other shopping districts, and while improving the vacant lot left by the Wellesley Inn’s demolition did eliminate an overt eyesore, Belclare’s arrival was not a “game-changer” for the area, according to d’Hemecourt, though he does agree the award-winning complex designed by CBT Architects and developed by Abbey Rock LLC and ELV Associates has been “a wonderful addition” to the mix that gave several retailers the chance to grab a foothold.
“It has generated a lot of energy for the square, and given people another reason to go there,” says d’Hemecourt. “We are really excited to be bringing this out to the market . . . we expect a lot of people are going to want to take a look at it.” The investment range might be a bit on the smaller side for institutional capital, but d’Hemecourt says the cash-flowing, supremely located opportunity “checks off the boxes” for many private players including high net-worth investors and retail opportunity funds.
The BRA retail practice group works cohesively on every assignment, relays d’Hemecourt, with team members Whitney Gallivan and Joseph Donato helping on the Belclare exclusive, as are BRA founding principal Jason S. Weissman, and the Capital Markets division he oversees. The Shops at Belclare tours will be scheduled once the exclusive launches in the coming days, says d’Hemecourt, followed by a call for offers after that process is complete.
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