MIT plans expansion of University Park
MIT will work with Forest City Boston to build a new building at 298–334 Massachusetts Avenue, in the area just north of Random Hall, expanding research and retail opportunities along the block. Construction could start as soon as a year from now.
Additionally, MIT is looking to further develop Kendall Square by bringing in more retail and research space opportunities in the next five to twelve years, and has launched a major rezoning effort and political campaign to do so.
The new MIT/Forest City building will be a five-story, approximately 240,000 square foot building. The ground floor will be used for retail facilities, while upper stories will be dedicated to research and office space, said Peter Calkins, Executive Vice President of Forest City Boston.
The building will extend along Mass Ave. from the former Cambridgeport Saloon through the All Asia restaurant. It will extend a block down Blanche Street, from Mass Ave. to Green Street, and then approximately halfway down Green Street. Random Hall, which extends from 282 to 290 Mass Ave, will not be affected by the development.
Existing buildings will be demolished, including Thailand Cafe, All Asia, J.N. Philips Auto Glass, and MIT building NW62 (the Volvo Garage).
Construction could begin as early as a year from now, said Calkins, depending on identification of a major user. A minor change in zoning will be required before construction can begin. Costs are unclear at this point, though it is likely to be upwards of $100 million. The project is primarily dependant on the actions of Forest City — they will be responsible for design, marketing, leasing, construction, and other concerns. Calkins said MIT has been “taking a very passive role.” MIT and Forest City are joint partners in the development, said Calkins. “We’ll both contribute the land we control into the partnership”, with costs being split on a fifty–fifty basis.
MIT has worked with Forest City before on the University Park development, which includes a public park, housing, and retail spaces, such as Shaw’s supermarket on Sidney Street, the Asgard Irish Pub, and the Le Meridien Hotel (formerly the University Park Hotel@MIT).
The new building is meant as an extension to University Park, though it will not change the current public access to University Park. Currently, University Park connects to Mass Ave with one building and a small park located near the firehouse at 408 Mass Ave.
The lots along Mass Ave that will hold the future building are some of several pieces of real estate owned by MIT and managed by the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) at this time. MITIMCo serves to support the Institute financially by investing capital in various ventures, including stocks, bonds, and real estate. Real estate investments fall into two categories — investments globally and investments in Cambridge.
While MIT and Forest City are building, Novartis is also planning a new development, slated to begin construction sometime in 2011. Novartis will be building a $600 million complex across the street from the current Novartis campus, including the lot on the corner of Mass Ave and Albany Street and the former Analog Devices building, approximately one block south of the new Forest City development.
In addition to the development along Mass Ave, MIT is planning on developing Kendall Square further in the next five to twelve years. MIT President Susan J. Hockfield sees Kendall as becoming a center for community in Cambridge as well as a hub of life sciences research, says Sarah E. Gallop, the Co-Director of the Office of Government and Community Relations.
This project is the personal vision of President Hockfield, Gallop said.
MIT has held over 100 presentations to the Cambridge and MIT communities about their plans for Kendall Square, including meetings with the Undergraduate Association, a meeting with residents of East Campus this week, open meetings to the community, and meetings with city councillors and other government officials.
Stephen C. Marsh, Managing Director of Real Estate for MITIMCo articulates the project’s vision as one of enhancing the retail space to “really activate the street edge.” Marsh notes that a lot of the existing retail in Kendall, such as MIT Press, involves going up steps from street level, and says that really hurts retail.
“There are really amazing companies doing really amazing things” in Kendall Square, Marsh said, but from looking at the street level, “you have no idea.” MIT wants to change that.
“Kendall Square is underserving and is not a recognized place, other than in name only. The initiative here is to create a ‘place,’” Marsh said.
Marsh also hopes the project will further connect MIT and the Kendall T Stop, a connection that is particularly difficult right now.
According to Gallop, there may be as much as one million square feet of development in Kendall, with 100,000 square feet of retail space being created. The development will require extensive rezoning of the current properties.
MIT intends to file for zoning changes with the city sometime this winter, Marsh said.
The goal of the project is to bring more retail into the area as a way of engaging the public, while also expanding research facilities in the area. Emphasis will be placed on street level development and areas that will allow public congregation. Development will focus on the area around the T stop and south of Main Street.
MIT stresses that the artists renderings of Kendall Square are merely preliminary visions, and they are likely to change in the future, and should not be construed as definite plans.
But can MIT do retail right?
On October 19, Cambridge City Councilman Kenneth E. Reeves publicly criticized MIT’s management of their properties in Cambridge in an open letter to Hockfield published in The Tech. Reeves questioned the effectiveness of Marsh, and was particularly upset by two factors: a presentation given to him by MIT’s consultant working on the Kendall project, and a lack of communication about the Forest City joint project.
On the day prior to the letter, the Cambridge City Council passed an order directing the city to “identify a well qualified consultant to assist with determining the desired future course of overall development in Kendall Square and Central Square. It is particularly important that the City immediately think through the overall impact of a significant MIT project in Kendall Square and Central Square.”
As a result of the order, City Manger Robert W. Healy and Mayor David P. Maher met with Hockfield, according to Gallop. “We are all still in agreement that this is a good idea,” she said.
Reeves cited MIT’s lack of success with retail in the past, especially the management of MIT’s property at 450 Mass Ave, the Central Square Theatre. The theatre has been there since 2008, but the retail space on the first story has remained vacant the entire time. Reeves claimed that this vacancy was due to unreasonable rents charged by MIT, and the empty storefronts have “contributed to the general sense of decline in Central Square. Rather than making a contribution to its revitalization it has conveyed a sense of failure.”
According to Gallop, three letters of intent have now been signed to rent retail space in Central Square. Two of the letters concern the space below the Central Square Theater, with the third located elsewhere in Central Square.
According to Marsh, the vacancy at the lots was largely due to the recession and problems presented by the footprint of the building. Marsh said the rent asked for at the 450 Mass Ave property is “very much market-oriented.”
Gallop said that President Hockfield is committed to doing “whatever expertise and resources” are necessary to do this right.
“When MIT builds, we often build because we have a donor,” Gallop said. This case is different, she said: “We’re not building because we have a tenant. We’re building because we want to create a sense of place on the first floor.”
Gallop said MIT is continuing to gain experience with retail, but notes that Reeves’ criticisms are a valid way of looking at things. “Councillor Reeves knows that we respect him. He knows that we’re going to follow a process that makes good sense. We’ve known him for a long time and he knows we respect him. And we’re going to work with him. He knows that.”
According to Gallop, Hockfield has invited city leadership to her home next week Wednesday to preview MIT150 activities and facilitate communication between the city and MIT. Over 40 people will be there, including the Institute’s senior leadership.
MIT is attempting to facilitate more communication between Cambridge and MIT throughout the development process. Marsh sees these developments as being beneficial to Cambridge as a whole, not MIT in isolation. MIT started investing in Cambridge in the 1960’s in order to help bolster development of the community surrounding MIT. Much of the land surrounding MIT was highly industrial, and concerns over urban blight led MIT to invest in the area as a way to help the local economy and improve the standing of the area. Early projects undertaken include the development of Technology Square and University Park.
John A. Hawkinson contributed to the reporting of this article.