Biotech’s big success boosts Boston’s Fan Pier project, too

An architectural rendering of Vertex buildings A (on the left) and B at Fan Pier. An architectural rendering of Vertex buildings A (on the left) and B at Fan Pier. (TSOI/ Kobus & Associates, Elkus Manfredi Architects)
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / May 24, 2011

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Yesterday’s approval of Vertex’s Pharmaceutical Inc.’s hepatitis C treatment triggers one the biggest real estate deals in Boston’s history and is expected to spur the economic turnaround of the waterfront’s industrial area.

Construction of two buildings totaling more than a million square feet and costing about $800 million is scheduled to begin on Fan Pier as soon as this week and be completed in 2013 or 2014.

City and business leaders say the arrival of the biotechnology company, which plans to move its headquarters and about 1,500 employees from Cambridge, will attract similar businesses to the area.

“This will open a whole new pathway for the city’s growth,’’ said Bill Motely, a managing director for the commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle. “Pharmaceutical companies like to be located near each other, so this is going to bring a lot of new people and further demand for services.’’

Fan Pier has just one building now, but plans call for an eight-building complex that would include offices, residences, stores, and hotel rooms, in addition to parks and a marina. Vertex says it will lease 1.1 million square feet of office and lab space over the next 15 years in two of those buildings.

The company’s expansion plans were secured yesterday when the Food and Drug Administration approved Incivek, Vertex’s hepatitis C treatment. Incivek is the first drug developed solely by the company and will transform it into a profit-making juggernaut virtually overnight. An estimated 3 million Americans suffer from the liver disease and analysts project that the tablet could become a blockbuster, meaning annual sales of at least $1 billion.

“There will always be a huge demand for this drug,’’ said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. “That bodes well for the company and for Fan Pier, where Vertex will serve as a huge anchor in terms of bringing new traffic to the waterfront.’’

The deal is considered a milestone for Boston officials, who have long sought to lure a major biotechnology company from Cambridge, where many of the state’s key life sciences firms are based.

Vertex’s relocation is “going to change the dynamics here for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons,’’ said Joe Fallon, chief executive of Fallon Co., whose Boston-based development firm will oversee the project. “For a lot of the smaller scale start-ups, bringing Vertex here confirms what they already know: that this is an area for growth, not just for Boston but for the entire region.’’

Fallon said he intends to begin construction in the coming days. Some Vertex employees will begin moving to the waterfront this fall, into an existing building at One Marina Park Drive.

“It’s hard to compare this location with any other in the city,’’ Fallon said. “Across the street there’s already discussion of more apartments and retail stores. Adding 1,500 new employees to this location will have an immediate impact.’’

The Vertex lease will also result in expansion of the nearby marina, improving access to the area via a new water taxi service.

Casey Ross can be reached at