Gayle Blakeley Farris is like a parent waiting for a child to go off to college. In this case, it's a 2.3 million-square-foot child.
When that day comes this fall, Blakeleywhose company, Forest City Enterprises Inc., is the parent of the University Park at MITplans to have a big send-off.
The park has been under construction for 20 years and will finish its two final buildings, 100 Landsdowne St. and 23 Sidney St., this spring. The residential buildings will add 254 units of housing to the site.
"Obviously, I feel like a proud mama," said Farris. "This was a vision that people weren't sure could happen."
Now, after 20 years, Blakeley Farris' child is leaving the nestwhich means her company is on the lookout for another project to nurture.
In Greater Boston, that's proving to be a tougher task than developing one of the first and largest mixed-use projects, especially given the lack of sites and increased competition.
"They're a talented group," said Michael Cantalupa of Boston Properties Inc. "They did an excellent job in executing University Park. I think that there are opportunities out there. It's definitely a challenging market out there."
University Park was born in 1983 when the Cleveland-based real estate development group was formed to redevelop the 27-acre industrial site. Today the $650 million project is a fully leased biotechnology campus with 10 research and office buildings, four residential complexes and 250,000 square feet of hotel, restaurant and retail space.
As Boston development projects come up for bid, Forest City invariably is one of the "usual suspects" involved, or at least looking, at the bidding, said Farris.
The reason the company has yet to land its next major development is not for lack of trying. The real estate development company has landed projects, just not in Boston.
"We see this as being our first child," said Farris. "You always have your first child, but you have your second, third and fourth as well," said Farris.
Forest City was one of many developers who looked at the Fan Pier property, for example. Two development teams have had the waterfront site under contract, only to back away when the numbers wouldn't work.
Forest City's Boston office has also looked at parcels up for bid along the former Central Artery, including a development in Chinatown that garnered only one developer. It also bid for the 100 Arch St. project (only to be passed over for Tishman Speyer Properties) as well as the contract to develop a site for the Joslin Diabetes Center expansion project, which includes 350,00 square feet of research space and 180,000 square feet of housing and a 350-car parking garage. For Joslin, Forest City came in "second," said Farris. Boston Properties was awarded the job.
"We're always looking for opportunities and balancing opportunities with completion," said Farris. "We've looked at everything that's happening."
Farris said part of the problem in Boston is the lack of public funding for development projects, which require a large commitment on the part of the developer to pay for infrastructure and public improvements. In Baltimore, for example, Forest City is working on a project in which the city and a foundation have made investments in the development to mitigate risk.
"Historically, developers here have had to shoulder all the cost," said Farris.
Call Forest City "careful," but don't call it desperate.
Just because it has no pipeline full of Boston-area projects doesn't mean Farris is going to overpay to land a deal. One such example was the bidding for Boston's 200 State St., an office/retail building situated on the future Rose Kennedy Greenway and adjacent to Faneuil Hall. At the end of the day, the $141 million price tag the tower sold for was simply too rich, said Farris.
"These guys are going to look at opportunities all over the country," said Debra Gould, a principal at Spaulding & Slye Colliers. "These guys will hit the books again in a big way. These guys are a major player, and I have no doubt they'll turn up on another site. It doesn't have to be a North Point or Fan Pier to be successful. They are a player."
Spaulding & Slye is kicking off the 45-acre, 5.2 million-square-foot mixed-use project called North Point in East Cambridge, which will break ground this month on two residential buildings.
While Farris gets ready to throw a party for all of the "mothers and fathers" who helped make University Park a success, she's not ready to be an empty nester just yet.
"I've been here for 20 years, and I expect to be here for 20 more," said Farris.