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Tower isn't even built yet but it's already for sale

A gleaming 18-story building called the Center for Life Science Boston, underway in the Longwood Medical Area, is still just a hole in the ground. Yet it's already for sale.

So hot is the market for investment properties in commercial real estate -- and so scarce is space for the life sciences industry -- that Lyme Properties LLC, of Cambridge, has elected to sell the project, at 3 Blackfan Circle, 18 months before it opens.

``When we purchased the site we felt it was the best life sciences location in the United States," said David E. Clem, managing director of Lyme Properties, which has also developed properties in the biotech-rich Kendall Square area of Cambridge. ``Our original thought has been validated."

Rob Griffin, president of Cushman & Wakefield of Massachusetts Inc., which is marketing the property, said there is no set asking price, but with so many eager investors available it could go for more than $700 million.

``This is the hole in the doughnut in the most prestigious life sciences area in the country," he said. ``It will be 100 feet higher than any other building here, right next to Harvard Medical School."

Lyme owns the Center for Life Science Boston with the Scottish Widows Investment Partnership. Lyme declined to disclose its development costs. Depending on sales terms, Lyme could complete the construction itself, or let a new owner finish the project.

Eighty percent of the 703,000-square-foot building has been leased by tenants including two neighbors, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Children's Hospital Boston. Clem said he expects the building to be fully leased, including the 100,000 square feet that is currently available on the top four floors, by the end of the year. The project includes a 300-car garage being constructed below ground, in an area where available parking, like office space, is hard to find.

Frank Nelson, managing director of Cushman & Wakefield, said that while the vacancy rate for lab and research space in Cambridge is 11.4 percent and heading down, in the Longwood area vacancies are ``nonexistent." He cited a 2004 study that said the area, despite its congestion, will need 2.4 million to 4 million square feet more space in the next decade.

The building, designed by Tsoi/Kobus & Associates Inc. of Cambridge and largely of blue glass, will be asymmetrical, with three sections of varying heights.

A little over a year ago, Lyme, a subsidiary of Lyme Timber Co. of Hanover, N.H., and one of the nation's largest developers of research space, sold eight properties for about $524 million, including the Genzyme Center in Cambridge, to BioMed Realty Trust Inc., of San Diego.

That sale and others, such as the recent deal by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to sell Technology Square in Cambridge for about $600 million, convinced Lyme it was a good time to put the Longwood project on the block.

Lyme is negotiating the sale of a second phase of development on the site, approved by the city for another 352,000 square feet, to Children's Hospital, Clem said.

Griffin said he expects buyers to line up for the Longwood building, as they did for Technology Square, which got 23 bids.

``It's the number one medical destination in the world," Griffin said. ``It's like if you own residential, you want to be on Central Park in New York."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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