The 168-year-old Custom House Block on Long Wharf was built as a storing house for imported goods during Boston’s maritime trade heyday.
Capital Properties, a New York-based real estate firm, saw the appeal of such rustic structures in the 21st-century economy when it acquired the warehouse-turned-office building and adjacent Chart House restaurant in 2015 for $34 million. Now it’s drawing up a renovation program that embraces the latest workspace trends.
The developer plans to remove interior demising walls to make way for open-plan office space as it looks for a single tenant for nearly 80,000 square feet, said David Rattner, a development associate for Capital Properties.
“Anything that’s not brick we’re going to take out, so you’ll have the open floor plan as it was originally envisioned by the warehouse owners,” Rattner said. “You’ll be able to see from end to end.”
With the departure of anchor tenant Aecom Technology Corp. in November, Capital Properties hired architects Stantec to update the structure and make it appealing to tech and creative companies.
The capital improvement plan includes new electrical and HVAC systems, upgraded Wi-Fi, restoration of the granite and brick exterior and a reinstallation of Colonial-style shutters, Rattner said. Some 30 new windows and doors will be added to maximize natural light and show off the 270-degree Boston Harbor views. In the 1970s, upper level space was converted into apartments and the then-owner added a dozen balconies – an additional perk for office tenants in warm weather.
“The vision for the property is to redo the entire system so you feel like you’re in a 21st-century building,” Rattner said during a recent tour of the vacant space. “You’ll feel the historic character, but within a building that has all the modern infrastructure you’d expect.”
While the property was designated as a national historic landmark by the Natural Park Service in 1966, changes are not subject to review by the Boston Landmarks Commission. Selective demolition has already begun on the upper floors to give prospective tenants a glimpse of the possibilities.
Rents will be positioned in the low $50 per square foot range, depending upon the tenant improvement package, said Andy Hoar, president and co-managing partner at CBRE/New England, which is the leasing agent.
“Really the strategy is the scarcity of good brick-and-beam space on the water,” Hoar said. “We’re approaching a project like this as effectively a build-to-suit opportunity for a tech company from Cambridge or the suburbs that can’t find that space they’re looking for.”