MIT signs agreement to redevelop 14 acres in Kendall Square

Institute to help build new DOT facility in exchange for land

MIT and the U.S. General Services Administration finalized a $750 million agreement on Wednesday that will give the Institute access to a 14-acre parcel of land near Kendall Square. In exchange, MIT will construct a federal building on the land.

The space is currently the site of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. It is located on Broadway across from the Marriott — a four minutes’ walk from the Kendall MBTA station. It currently comprises two parking lots and six buildings, the most prominent of which is a tall office tower.

MIT has plans to redevelop the space, which will feature housing, retail, commercial office and lab space, and public gathering space.

President L. Rafael Reif said he envisions that the development will turn Kendall Square into a neighborhood with an “irresistible personality,” where people want to “live, work and play.”

Under the agreement with the GSA, MIT will construct a new federal building on four acres of the Volpe site. This is expected to take four years. Afterward, MIT will get access to the remaining ten acres.

The city of Cambridge’s Kendall Square study, published in 2013, noted that the Volpe site contained “significant unrealized development potential.”

The Volpe Center was built in the 1960s for use by NASA, but transferred to the DOT in 1970. DOT was seeking to modernize the facility, but there were no federal funds appropriated to do so. Instead, DOT sought an exchange partner who would help them build a new facility. In return, the partner would have the opportunity to develop what remained of the campus.

For the project to go forward, the value of the Volpe Center campus given to the exchange partner had to be equal to the cost of developing the new buildings.

Last November, the GSA selected MIT as its partner to redevelop the Volpe campus from among several entities that submitted bids.

MIT will use its investment funds for the expense. Development on the site is expected to provide income for MIT in the future in the form of lease payments. 

“It’s important to understand that the agreement we signed today will be paid for entirely with MIT's investment funds, just as if it were a purchase of stocks or bonds,” Reif wrote in an MIT-wide email.

The MIT Investment Management Company, which handles MIT’s real estate, will oversee the purchase.

The redeveloped campus will be “mixed-use,” featuring housing, retail, commercial office and lab space, and public gathering space. New roads will also be constructed through the block to connect different parts of the Kendall Square area. In accordance with Cambridge city ordinances, MIT will ensure some affordable housing.

Both MIT and the city of Cambridge have appointed Volpe Working Groups to work on the rezoning plans for the Volpe campus. MIT’s group, chaired by Steve Hall, professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, will also include professors from the departments of Architecture and Urban Studies and Planning. Cambridge’s group includes residents of East Cambridge, Cambridgeport, and Wellington-Harrington, as well as other relevant community members, such as representatives of Kendall Square businesses.

In an email to the MIT community, President L. Rafael Reif emphasized MIT’s commitment to the Kendall Square community and the city of Cambridge, saying “it is now clear that [MIT’s] future success depends on making sure that Kendall succeeds as a place... a place that makes our city stronger, too.”

MIT will hold two community meetings Feb. 9, at noon and 6 p.m., to discuss more details and answer questions about the redevelopment plans for the Volpe site.