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Beacon sells Channel Center piece at loss

Alan Leventhal's Midas touch didn't work on one property in Boston.

The Boston real estate executive and his firm Beacon Capital Partners LLC, which has made a bundle buying and selling big commercial properties such as the John Hancock Tower, unloaded a loser yesterday for $19 million less than it paid for it.

Beacon sold the mostly undeveloped portion of Channel Center -- two rows of old industrial buildings in the Fort Point Channel area -- to Commonwealth Ventures LLC of Southport, Conn., for $21.5 million. Beacon Capital had purchased the property about seven years ago for $40.5 million.

Beacon Capital executives declined to comment yesterday on the company's financial record with Channel Center.

Channel Center is a 16-building portfolio of the old Boston Wharf Co. buildings that Beacon acquired in 2000. Beacon redeveloped about 30 percent of the property in what it once projected as a $360 million project. But the renaissance of this industrial area has been slower in coming than Beacon Capital executives expected, and the fund they bought it in was coming to the end of its life, so they put Channel Center on the market.

Beacon Capital had planned a largely residential project for the location, previously called Midway; it did redevelop some buildings and built one new one, turning part of the complex over to an artists' nonprofit group.

One large space was envisioned as a performance theater and recently was leased by Longwood Events Corp., which puts on private parties. That space is called Artistry.

Commonwealth Ventures plans to immediately redevelop one of the two rows of Channel Center buildings, along A Street near Gillette Co. , into 280,000 square feet of office space, with retail shops on the first floor.

"Our goal is to get into the market as quick as we can," said Richard A. Galvin, president and owner of Commonwealth Ventures, which bought the property with partner GE Asset Management.

The remaining three buildings in the other row, to the east, will be redeveloped into residential space.

Beacon Capital also had secured permits to build two new office towers at the southern end of the existing Channel Center buildings, along A Street.

But Galvin said his firm won't undertake that development right away.

Although Channel Center condos didn't sell like hot cakes when Beacon Capital started work, Galvin said there is now increased redevelopment elsewhere in the neighborhood.

"There's a lot of terrific activity over there," he said. "The future is not very far away at all."

Commonwealth Ventures has done several projects in Providence, and is redeveloping the American Brewery Lofts in Jamaica Plain.

The property was purchased as part of Beacon Capital's first investment fund, and one real estate executive briefed on the firm's experience with it said that overall the investment fund had strong returns in spite of Channel Center.

Leventhal's company and his family's businesses have owned or run some of Boston's trophy property, including Rowes Wharf. Currently Beacon Capital is selling off most of its holdings in Boston, and it recently agreed to buy properties in the Washington, D.C., and Seattle areas.

Yet Leventhal said he remains bullish on Boston.

"We are confident in the future of Boston and are looking for more opportunities to invest," he said.

Beacon Capital's third investment fund had gross annual returns of more than 50 percent; as of last year the company was averaging 30 percent for all its five funds .

The company bought the Hancock tower and two other buildings in 2003 for $910 million -- and sold the tower alone this year for more than $1.3 billion.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at