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Once Framingham's largest employer, label and packaging firm Avery Dennison's small remaining presence in Framingham will be gone entirely by August, when the company's Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) division moves to neighboring Westborough. Avery Dennison sold its office building at 7 Bishop Street in Framingham last spring. It remains housed in the space, but not for long, as Westborough officials confirmed the company is planning to relocate.
It's the end of an era, according to Framingham Historical Society Curator Dana Ricciardi, but it's certainly not taking anyone by surprise.
"It's like the caboose of the train I guess," Ricciardi said. "We knew the train was leaving but it's sad to see the last car disappear."
The company was known as Dennison Manufacturing from the time it moved to Framingham in 1897 until 1990, when it merged with Avery International Corp. Since then, the company has gradually downsized its presence in Framingham, bringing it down to an office of 100 employees at 7 Bishop Street today.
Though the California-based company declined to comment for this story, James Molloy, Westborough's town manager, confirmed the company plans to build out offices to suit in the Westborough Office Park at 1700 West Park Drive, where it will take about 23,000 square feet of space. The property managed by Pennsylvania-based BPG Management Company L.P., which has a Waltham office.
Avery Dennison has performed well recently, according to the company's 2012 annual report. Company wide net sales increased 2.3 percent in fiscal 2012 to just over $6 billion, with the RBIS division generating 25 percent — or $1.5 billion — of those sales. The company has posted sales gains for its last four fiscal years. Avery also has facilities in Fitchburg and Western Massachusetts.
A building permit is pending for the project, according to Jim Robbins, Westborough's town planner.
"Of course, we're excited to have a nice company like Avery Dennison come to town with a rich history," Robbins said.
Avery's history is well documented in the archives of the Framingham Historical Society.
It started in 1844 in Maine when watchmaker Aaron Dennison was looking for boxes fit for the fine watches he sold. His family responded by starting a business making the sorts of boxes Dennison was looking for, before expanding to tags for retail products and luggage. The business grew under Aaron's younger brother, E.W. Dennison, and eventually moved to Roxbury before settling in Framingham in 1897.
The large complex located just off Route 135 was something to be seen during its heyday. E.W. Dennison's grandson Henry S. Dennison created a progressive company culture in the early 20th century, establishing a kindergarten on site for employees' children, a health center and a shareholder program for his workers.
"It was very much like a family and Henry Dennison personally encouraged many of the employees," Ricciardi said.
The Dennison factory churned out products for decades, employing as many as 3,000 people at one time, she added. But factory operations ceased when Dennison and Avery merged. The newly formed Avery Dennison began consolidating, but retained some office space on Bishop Street.
According to Ricciardi, it was big news when the factory closed 23 years ago.
"There was hardly anybody in town who hadn't worked at the Dennison, or had a family member or friend who worked there," Ricciardi said.
Since 1990 the defunct buildings that made up the Dennison complex in Framingham have either been sold for other uses, or remained vacant.
A year ago, Avery Dennison sold the building where its offices are located on Bishop Street, and the two other buildings it still owns are still for sale. BPG, which represented Avery Dennison in the sale of its building at 7 Bishop St., is also the broker for the remaining properties. They include a 120,000-square-foot building at 100 Clinton St. and an 89,000-square-foot building at 71 Bishop St.
According to Avery Dennison, the South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC), a social services agency that shares the building with Avery Dennison, was the buyer.
SMOC, which has offices in the same complex, adjacent to Avery Dennison on Howard Street, will expand in the building following Avery Dennison's move to Westborough. SMOC purchased the building for $2 million, according to commercial real estate firm CB Richard Ellis.
Though owners sometimes struggle to find modern-day buyers for buildings designed in a bygone industrial era, now may be the best time in recent history to sell. So says Brendan Carroll, senior vice president at Richards Barry Joyce & Partners in Boston.
According to Carroll, absorption in the Greater Boston region, including MetroWest, was 933,000 square feet for the quarter of 2013, which was the greatest amount of vacant warehouse space consumed from one quarter to the next in 15 years.
The warehouse vacancy rate in Metro West was 17.8 percent in the first quarter, down from 19.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, Carroll said.
"Regionwide, there is absolutely demand for adaptive reuse for older structures, particularly structures that have solid construction and are well located," Carroll said.
In fact, properties that are "functionally obsolete" are seeing increased options for reuse, he said. Residential and retail uses are popular options, along with demolition for rebuilding, he said.
A prime example, according to Carroll, was the demolition and redevelopment of the former Wonder Bread factory on Speen Street in Natick. Iowa-based General Growth Properties purchased the factory, which closed in 1999, and demolished it in 2004 to make room for the expansion of the Natick Mall. n
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