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Major project near Assembly Row is moving forward, with more lab space

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 6/10/2020 Tim Logan
a close up of a garden: An artist's rendering of the planned XMBLY complex in Somerville. © BioMed Realty An artist's rendering of the planned XMBLY complex in Somerville.

Many big real estate projects are in a a holding pattern now, but developers who plan a major life-sciences lab complex near Assembly Row in Somerville are pushing ahead.

The Somerville Planning Board has scheduled a virtual public hearing for Thursday on BioMed Realty’s plans to add 100,000 square feet to a complex known as XMBLY and swap out 167 apartments that were previously planned for more office and laboratory space.

It’s a sign of the continued strength of the region’s life-sciences market, despite the widespread recession sparked by the coronavirus crisis, as well as of the spread of life-sciences companies beyond Kendall Square in Cambridge.

BioMed, a veteran Kendall Square developer, is acquiring the nine-acre XMBLY complex from Cresset Partners and Novaya Real Estate Partners, said Sal Zinno, vice president of development. It aims to start work on the 1.6 million-square-foot project by late next year. He noted that the area around Assembly Square — with its easy access to workers from the suburbs, downtown Boston, and Kendall Square, just two miles away — is booming.

From offices in Kendall Square, “We watched the Partners building go up," Zinno said. “It’s close. And now we have the opportunity to do something there ourselves.”

Since Partners HealthCare moved many of its Boston-area office workers to a new building at Assembly Row in 2016, the area has become increasingly popular as an office destination. Puma, the shoe and apparel maker, is building its North American headquarters there, and several other office and lab projects are in the works, including a 500,000-square-foot office-and-research building at 74 Middlesex Ave., which the Planning Board will also consider on Thursday.

Mayor Joe Curtatone has been pushing for commercial and office development, especially at Assembly Square and in nearby Union Square, in part to boost Somerville’s employment numbers and property tax base.

“We are excited to see one of the world’s leading life science developers seeking to make significant commitments to our city,” Curatone said in a statement. “BioMed Realty’s vision for building commercial lab and office space in Assembly Square will add significant momentum to our growing innovation ecosystem.”

And despite the overall economic downturn, demand remains strong for lab and life-sciences space in and around Boston, Zinno said. So strong, in fact, that BioMed decided to reconfigure the project, eliminating one apartment building to make room for more office space.

Zinno said he has heard the theories that workers won’t return to offices en masse after the coronavirus crisis, but he’s not convinced, at least not when it comes to sites like the one at Assembly Square.

“I think a lot of this is very temporary,” he said. “You look at where we are in this project right now. If we’re fortunate, [we’ll] break ground at the end of 2021. It’ll be a different world when this opens."

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