LOWELL -- One of the city's largest commercial properties changed hands on Wednesday, as Farley White Interests acquired the former Wang Laboratories and M/A-Com Inc. building on Pawtucket Boulevard for $15.5 million.
Seller Winstanley Enterprises Inc. of Concord has owned the nearly 900,000-square-foot property since 1996.
"This is a unique opportunity to do something transformative in Lowell," said John Power, a principal at Farley White, in a phone interview on Wednesday. "This is the Cross Point towers on their side."
While Farley White Interests is based in Boston, much of its real-estate holdings are in Greater Lowell. Among those are the Wannalancit Mills in Lowell, 150 Apollo Drive in Chelmsford, the Bedford Executive Office Park, Bedford Farms Office Park, several Billerica properties along Manning Road and one on Fortune Drive.
Power said a primary reason his company was interested in the building, at 1001 Pawtucket Blvd., is that it offers "great flexibility" for a property manager.
"Number one, this property works as an office building," said Power, a former leasing agent at Cross Point as it was transformed in the 1990s from a single-tenant to a multi-tenant building. "Reasons two through five are that it can be a life-science space, an R&D space, a call center and a manufacturing building.
"We believe we can play an important part in the trend of 'on-shoring,' as China becomes less dramatic in its cost advantages."
The property was built in the 1980s under the direction of Wang Laboratories founder An Wang, and for many years was the corporate headquarters of M/A-Com Inc., a provider of radio-frequency devices that was for a time under the corporate umbrella of Tyco International.
But after Tyco spun off M/A-Com several years ago, the latter company split into several parts; Cobham Defence Electronics was one of them, and what's left of the original M/A-Com remains on Chelmsford Street.
The Pawtucket Boulevard property then became available for additional tenants.
The building currently houses British defense company Cobham, the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (UMass Lowell's robotics center, referred to simply as NERVE), auto safety-products maker Autoliv and American Capital Energy, a solar engineering and construction contractor. Power said a fifth entity, Rapid Micro Biosystems, will soon be moving from Burlington.
UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan said the university "feels good about the purchase."
"We've had experience dealing with John and his company at Wannalancit, and it's been a very strong, collaborative relationship," Meehan said. "The NERVE Center is important to the university, to the economy and to the region."
The chancellor wouldn't rule out a possible expansion of the facility.
"It's getting a lot of attention, and we expect it will attract significant research dollars," he said. "It will have a dramatic impact on robot development."
Power concedes there's still work to be done, as the space still contains 400,000 square feet of empty space. But he's confident Farley White won't have to do it alone.
"It's an enormous risk to inherit this large a space. There's really no ramp-up time," he said. "But the reason we're doing it is because of the delegation to the Legislature from Lowell, the university and the administration. The people of Lowell get behind visions and projects. How do we make this work? There are going to be challenges, but I know I can go to bed at night knowing there are individuals pulling on me harder than I do.
"A couple thousand jobs can change things in Lowell. That's the kind of population this building can bring."
Power said Farley White does plan renovations.
"It has a wonderful cafeteria, but we'll be looking to do some renovations in the lobby and add a fitness center," he said.
The building is assessed at $23.85 million, according to city records.
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