Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Peeking in on the Old Homestead

I had the occasion to walk by 640 Memorial Drive, the building in which I spent half of my Millennium career. It's a grand old building with an interesting history.

640 was original built by Henry Ford as an automobile assembly plant located close to a major market -- shipping cars from Michigan was proving troublesome and he wanted an alternative. To economize on land, he envisioned a semi-vertical assembly line -- the standard assembly line would be folded into a series of floors. Giant overhead cranes would lift parts and semi-completed assemblies between floors. The scheme proved impractical, and Ford later built a conventional assembly line over in Somerville. The building went through a number of industrial uses, including being a Polaroid camera assembly plant. It was apparently quite an eyesore in the late 80's, but by the time I first noticed it in the mid-90's it had been rehabbed very nicely. The huge bay once ranged by the cranes is now a soaring atrium & the site of the old railyard is parking.

When I interviewed at Millennium in 1996 they occupied top 2 floors, and by the time I arrived a portion of the middle (3rd) floor had been taken, plus the mouse facility in the basement. Eventually, another major tenant in the building (who made medical alert bracelet systems) was enticed to vamoose, leaving only a single other tenant (a pathology lab).

Around the time I moved back into 640 in 1999 there was a huge effort to fit out all this space. But, before a few years passed Millennium started its deflation and the parking lot starting getting empty again. Eventually, everyone moved out, leaving Millennium with an empty building with a lot of lease left on it.

I peered in a few windows and was surprised to see more occupied than expected. I didn't have time to browse a lot, but while some 1st floor offices were clearly vacant some of the space on the 2nd and 3rd floors were clearly occupied -- though I think my old haunt wasn't. I know there was at least recently some significant lab space vacant, as Codon took a look at it.

Millennium has, of course, been trying to unload the space ever since they moved out. Because it was lumped into restructuring costs, the space was absolutely off-limits -- even when a major power failure crippled the other buildings, 640 was not even seriously considered -- accounting rules are rules.

Which brings up a question. A major reason for vacating buildings was to save money, and even renting empty space is cheaper than having it occupied (light, heat, security, IT support, etc). But, a huge chunk of the cost savings were supposed to come from subletting the space -- a story repeated with other facilities. I wonder how big the gap is (and how fast it is growing) between projected savings and actual ones. Perhaps its buried in a financial statement somewhere, but it is certainly not a bit of forecasting anybody is going to be crowing about.

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