After six decades in Boston, investment advisers Cantella & Co. had reached the point where commuting hassles outweighed the prestige of a downtown address.
As it settled on Malden Center for its new home, CEO Jay Lanstein opted for new construction with a differentiator: plans for a 4-story, 60,000-square-foot office building using mass timber construction.
Boston-based architects Arrowstreet suggested the unusual design, Lanstein said. He liked the rustic look, but wondered about costs compared to traditional concrete and steel construction.
“It turned out the cost is about the same,” Lanstein said. “The structural engineer is your interior designer. You drop a column and it’s done. Steel gets wrapped and there’s all these other decisions. We like the classic look, and the ability to do something different than what’s in the marketplace.”
Cantella estimates the project will cost $20 million, on top of last year’s $3.9 million site acquisition.
Mass timber has been used in just a handful of commercial properties in the Northeastern U.S., but is being used in developments in Greater Toronto totaling 4 million square feet. The material is assembled in factories using adhesives to assemble columns and panels out of lumber and other wood materials.
“It’s pretty new around here, and that’s a combination of code officials not quite being sure what to make of it, and fewer sawmills around here that can make it compared with the Pacific Northwest and parts of Canada and Europe,” said Sean Selby, a principal at Arrowstreet.
Massachusetts building codes allow mass timber construction heights up to 85 feet. The Malden project will source its materials from Bensonwood, a New Hampshire building material supplier.
Locally, mass timber was used in the John W. Olver Design Building which opened in 2017 at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Buildings using the technique offer potential energy savings because of the material’s superior insulating qualities compared with steel and concrete, according to research by brokerage Avison Young.
Cantella & Co. will occupy the top floor of the building, and Avison Young is marketing approximately 50,000 square feet of office space in the remainder of the building, which also will include approximately 5,000 square feet of retail space.
A proposal for an apartment complex was previously denied for the 11 Charles St. site amid opposition to additional multifamily development in Malden Center, which has seen more than 1,000 new housing units built this decade.
But Malden also has been attracting new office development as job growth spills north along the MBTA’s Orange Line corridor. Boston-based Berkeley Investments is redeveloping a former bank data center as Exchange 200, an office and data center across from the Malden Center MBTA station. Combined Properties of Malden last year developed a 55,231-square-foot office building on speculation at 295 Canal St.
Asking rents in the “Near North” class A office market have increased 22 percent over the last 24 months, according to Avison Young research.
Lanstein said the decision to leave the 28 State St. tower in Boston made sense, since most of the company’s 50 employees live north of the city. The company is leasing office space in Malden Center pending completion of the new building in late 2020.