Center of Attention Northampton Project Moves Off the Drawing Board

Ken Vincunas says that considerable time and energy were devoted to coming up with a name for his company’s latest commercial real-estate endeavor.

And he considers it all very well spent.

Indeed, he believes ‘Northampton/I-91 Professional Center’ effectively conveys not only where his next project will take shape, but what it will become.

The two-building, 80,000-square-foot Class A office complex will be located in Paradise City and, more specifically, just off exit 18 off I-91, adjacent to the Clarion Inn and Conference Center, where it will be quite visible from the highway. Meanwhile, it is a facility being designed for professionals, and while the health care sector is certainly one target, he believes individuals and firms across several sectors will be attracted to this site’s combination of access and amenities.

And in time, the site will become a center of business activity, he predicts, noting that the location makes the complex accessible to points well north and south of that I-91 off ramp, and thus perfect for professionals that do business across the region.

“In the end, everyone involved thought this name captured the fact that it was in Northampton and on the highway, which are the two biggest features,” said Vincunas, president of Agawam-based Development Associates Inc., which is spearheading the project for the owner of the Clarion complex, Atwood Drive, LLC, which has assembled the needed acreage over the past several years. “There were options, incorporating phrases like ‘Mountain View,’ that were a little more touchy-feely, but we wanted to emphasize our strengths and what sets this project apart.”

He described his company’s latest venture as a ‘partial-spec project,’ meaning that work will not commence until commitments have been received for probably 60{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} to 70{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the available square footage. But there is some risk involved, he continued, adding that there are still some question marks concerning when and to what degree the economy will turn around in the months to come.

The professional center is the first undertaking by Development Associates in Northampton, and is the latest in a series of office and mixed-use ventures across Western Mass. The portfolio, which totals 1.5 million square feet in facilities stretching from New Haven to Greenfield, currently includes the 31,000-square-foot Agawam Crossing professional building, the 85,000-square-foot North American headquarters for Convergent Lasers in the Chicopee River Business Park, the 190,000-square-foot Greenfield Corporate Center, the headquarters for Seahorse Bioscience in Chicopee, and dozens of other single- and multi-tenant facilities.

Vincunas believes this will be a worthy addition to that portfolio and, more importantly, an economic driver for the Northampton area and the region as a whole.

Paradise Found?

As he talked with the Healthcare News about the Northampton/I-91 Professional Center, Vincunas said be believes this endeavor, the first Class A project to be built in Northampton in several years, has more going for it than an effective name and an attractive location.

Indeed, he’s also of the opinion that the timing is good, especially with regard to the laws of supply and demand. Elaborating, he said that, while the economy is still very much in recovery mode, there are certainly signs of progress and higher confidence on the part of business owners, including those in the health care sector.

“If we get the pre-leasing in place and get started soon, the timing could be perfect,” he said, citing what he considers a good amount of pent-up demand for such facilities within the health care sector and other professional groups. “We’d definitely be ahead of the curve because there’s not a lot of things being proposed for this kind of use.

“In the Northampton office market, while there is space,” he continued, “it’s mostly in the downtown where it’s hard to find parking and it can be challenging getting in and out of the center of town, traffic-wise. This gives people with a regional perspective a location that they can get to from all quarters very quickly. You can draw from all areas. You don’t have to be just a local office; you can be a regional office.”

Meanwhile, many of the office projects created for the health care market, such as a series of developments on Wasson Avenue in the North End of Springfield, near Baystate Health, are at or near capacity, said Vincunas, as are many of the rehabbed former mill buildings in Northampton, Florence, and Easthampton. And as the medical sector, one of the mainstays of the local economy, continues to grow, Class A space will be in demand.

The professional center has been on the drawing board for roughly two years ago, or since Atwood Drive LLC completed the task of acquiring additional adjacent parcels, including a former Mobil gas station and a small auto-repair venture, and assembling a parcel totaling just over four acres.

The timing certainly wasn’t as appropriate then, he noted, referring to both the economy as a whole and the fact that two major potential players, Baystate Health and Cooley Dickinson Hospital, were involved with other initiatives. Also, the project had not gone through the involved permitting process in Northampton, he continued, adding that the cart was essentially put before the horse.

“This time, we received the permitting first, so we know what we can offer,” he said, “and we know we can build it as soon as we’re ready.”

The center will consist of two buildings, one with 39,000 square feet of leasible space, and the other with 43,000 square feet. Full floors are approximately 12,000 square feet, and spaces as small as 1,000 square feet will be available.

The exterior of the buildings features a high proportion of glass, complemented by natural brick and EFIS (exterior insulation and finishing system) effects, said Vincunas, adding that the major entrances of the buildings feature a two-story glass lobby. Meanwhile, green materials and high-efficiency mechanical systems will be implemented throughout the project to reduce energy and improve overall quality.

Vincunas said marketing of the professional center has begun in earnest, and initial interest is solid and crosses several industry sectors. Pricing is currently being finalized on the shell and interior spaces, he continued, adding that these numbers will contribute to lease rates, which have not yet been determined.

Space Exploration

While Vincunas exudes confidence while discussing his latest endeavor, he noted that there are still many variables when it comes to the economy and its ongoing rebound, and that time will tell just how much demand there will be for this new supply of Class A space.

At this moment, though, he believes he has the right product in the right place at the right time.

And the name is pretty good, too.