The Travelers office building in downtown Fall River and the former Genzyme factory in the Fall River Industrial Park represent two very different, but crucial, pieces of the city’s economic future.
Both changed hands this past summer in deals city officials say will help stabilize and strengthen the local commercial real estate market.
“I think they are significant.” said Kenneth Fiola Jr., executive vice president of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, about the sales. “Both are located in strategic areas and should help maintain or grow jobs.”
Sitting at the corner of South Main Street and Pocasset Street, one block from where Interstate 195 cuts through the heart of the city, the Travelers building is as centrally located as Fall River offices can be.
But like many other buildings built for use by a single company, the four-story, 1974 brick building had become underutilized in recent years as owner Travelers insurance steadily cut back on the size of the local workforce.
The new owner of the building, Fall River-based First Bristol Corp., is betting that with Travelers as an anchor tenant leasing in half the building, the office market is strong enough to support an estimated $2 million renovation needed to rent the rest to smaller office users.
For the city, the deal has two benefits: keeping a still substantial Travelers presence downtown while adding new investment and, hopefully, additional office workers and their foot traffic to the neighborhood.
In the industrial park, the Genzyme building was not just underutilized, but has been vacant for a decade since the Cambridge, Mass., biotech giant sold the unit that made cardiothoracic surgery devices there in 2003. Genzyme itself was acquired by French drugmaker Sanofi in 2011.
Fall River manufacturer Klear Vu Corp. purchased the building for $1.75 million, less than one-quarter of the $8.4 million assessed value of the property, which includes 13.5 acres of land. Genzyme paid $7 million for the property in 1991, according to assessors records.
But despite the property’s dramatic drop in value, Fiola said having the building occupied and used will help the industrial park.
“The purchase and use for manufacturing takes a property and re-energizes life into it,” Fiola said. “Because it is a high-profile property, that helps the image of the whole park.”