Mass Ave property owner gets foothold on Virginia Avenue

January 18, 2011

A downtown advocate who renovated and repopulated a commercial building on what was once a desolate stretch of Massachusetts Avenue hopes to do the same on Virginia Avenue, where he just closed on the purchase of three contiguous commercial buildings totaling 15,000 square feet.

Tom Battista bought the buildings at 647-659 Virginia Ave. Dec. 29. Battista wouldn’t reveal what he paid, but he said the group of buildings was initially listed for $500,000. The price dropped to about $350,000 last summer, said Bill Brennan, a broker with Lee & Associates who represented the seller. The seller was the family of Malcolm Boone, a dentist who had owned the buildings since the 1970s. Dr. Boone listed the property for sale in 2008. When he died last summer, his family lowered the price.

Brennan said Virginia Avenue, which is already home to numerous locally owned businesses, has plenty of potential. Selling property on the avenue is only a problem when the prices are too high, he said.  

The southeast leg of the Cultural Trail will pass directly in front of Battista’s newly acquired buildings, which are located where College Avenue intersects with Virginia. Being next to the trail will be a benefit in the long run, Battista said, but when construction of that leg of the trail starts this spring the disruption will be familiar.

Battista and his tenants in the Drey building in the 800 block of Massachusetts Avenue just lived through construction of the northeast leg of the trail, which is directly across the street from the Drey. The 10,000-square-foot building that Battista bought in 2000 is nearly full. Its tenants include R Bistro restaurant and The Mass Ave Wine Shop.

Battista hopes for similar success on Virginia Avenue. “It’s a very similar situation to the Drey. It’s old and hasn’t been updated but has a lot of great detail,” he said of the Virginia Avenue property.

The difference is that the Virginia Avenue property is three distinct buildings. They form a crude U shape. The side of the U farthest from downtown is a 5,600-square-foot building that houses a barber shop on the first floor. The barber, who Battista said “knows everyone” in the neighborhood, will stay. The second floor of that building will undergo extensive renovation and become a 2,900-square-foot apartment with two master suites. The bottom of the U is a 6,000-square-foot office/warehouse building that doesn’t front Virginia Avenue. It is occupied by tenants who will stay through the renovation.  

The side of the U closest to downtown is a 3,400-square-foot building that will be renovated to house an Italian bakery. The bakery will be run by Battista’s nephew, a resident of nearby Fountain Square who is a professional baker. Battista said he’s shopping for equipment for the bakery now, but that it won’t open until sometime next year. The bakery will open onto a courtyard space—the interior of the U—that fronts Virginia Avenue and will be visible from the Cultural Trail.


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