The Unitarian Universalist Association will be moving to a new headquarters.
The UUA Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday night, March 14, to purchase 24 Farnsworth Street in Boston. The neighborhood is known by several names—the Seaport District, the Innovation District, the Fort Point Channel, and South Boston. It is an emerging neighborhood, near the Federal Courthouse, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and the Boston Children’s Museum.
The board also authorized the subsequent sale of the UUA’s four buildings on Beacon Hill, including its historic headquarters building, 25 Beacon Street.
24 Farnsworth Street is a six-story, 75,000-square-foot, brick-and-beam building. The UUA will enter a lease-to-purchase agreement on the building. It will begin lease payments on the property on September 1, 2013. The option to buy is slated for January 1, 2015.
The UUA offices are likely to move to the new building in early 2014, according to UUA Treasurer and CFO Tim Brennan. Brennan would not comment on the cost of the lease or the purchase price. The building’s current owner, The Davis Companies, purchased the building in the summer of 2012 for $14 million, according to company president Jonathan Davis.
The lease-to-purchase agreement was negotiated at the request of The Davis Companies. However, Brennan said the agreement benefits the UUA, as well. “We won’t end up owning two sets of properties at the same time,” he said.
Tenants currently occupy the top three floors of 24 Farnsworth Street. The bottom three floors are gutted down to the exposed brick and beam of the building, Brennan said. The UUA’s Strategic Plan for Facilities (pdf), which the administration presented to the UUA Board in April 2012, stated that the Association was seeking a building of between 45,000- and 50,000-square-feet. The additional space in the new building “provides a lot of flexibility,” Brennan said. The UUA could choose to expand into additional floors as leases expire, or it could subdivide the space and lease to other tenants, he said.
With the deal to acquire 24 Farnsworth approved, the UUA will turn its attention to the sale of the four Beacon Hill properties. In addition to the headquarters at 25 Beacon Street, which sits beside the Massachusetts State House, the UUA owns 41 Mt. Vernon Street, the headquarters of Beacon Press, and 6 and 7 Mount Vernon Place, known as the Picket and Eliot guesthouses.
Brennan anticipates significant interest in the properties. The UUA will choose a broker to market the properties over the coming months. (Interested buyers should contact Leggat McCall Properties, the real estate advisors that served the UUA on the search for the new property.) After that, he expects a four- to six-month process until the sale closes. In the meantime, the UUA will retain an architect to design and build out the new headquarters.
UUA President Peter Morales called the deal exciting. “The building will help us to work the way that we want to work. That is with much more collaboration and teamwork,” he said.
Morales also said that he believes the sale of the properties on Beacon Hill, even including the purchase and design of the Farnsworth Street building, will generate income for the UUA’s endowment, which he said in turn will generate income for programs in perpetuity. “That is truly from my perspective one of the big motivators,” he said.
UUA Financial Advisor Dan Brody said that projections from several real estate advisors had shown that the UUA could sell its existing properties for a great deal more money than it would cost to buy the new space. In addition, the leased properties in the new building would generate income for the operating budget. “I’m very enthusiastic about the deal,” Brody said.
Morales acknowledged that the Association needs “to find a way to say goodbye” to the Beacon Hill properties. “We need to find a way to pay our respects, honoring it, celebrating it, and moving on,” Morales said.
The Farnsworth Street property was originally built as a warehouse at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was next used as a mattress factory. In 1988, it was renovated as an office building. After The Davis Companies purchased it last year, it leased the top floors as office space and gutted the bottom three floors, which the UUA will occupy. Brennan said it has been stripped to its exposed brick and high ceilings, an expensive process that also gives the UUA an open surface on which to build.
In a statement, Morales said, “Our movement will grow into a new era in this new space.”
The board issued a statement saying that it “did not make this decision lightly. We did so knowing the heart of our Association is always in our covenanted communities. The administration made a compelling case for workspace suited to this collaborative age. This move will strengthen our Association spiritually, financially, creatively, and technologically. We believe the new property will become a hub of hospitality and inclusion, a place where Unitarian Universalists will deepen their connection to each other and our faith.”
Article by By Michelle Bates Deakin