MIT's Volpe site development to bring together Kendall Square community

Cambridge residents voice concerns about extensive construction on 14-acre plot

Affordable housing, sustainability, business, and scientific research are among the top priorities for MIT’s Volpe Center redevelopment project. The project will include significant renovations to the Kendall Square MBTA station and the construction of 300 additional housing units, some of which will make up a new MIT graduate residence hall, replacing Eastgate.

David Manfredi, an architect at Elkus-Manfredi, presented the plans for the future Volpe site, along with a number of other speakers, at a meeting held Thursday afternoon for communities affected by or involved with the redevelopment process.

MIT announced its $750 million purchase of the 14-acre Volpe site, owned by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Jan. 18. As a result of the deal, MIT can develop freely on the parcel as long as it constructs a new Volpe facility before initiating additional construction on the site.

The deal goes back as far as Aug. 2014, when the General Services Administration announced the Volpe Center was available for federal solicitations. MIT responded to the call and was selected in Nov. 2016 by the GSA.

Parallel to this federal process, the City of Cambridge started involving residents of Cambridge in the design. The city put in place two working groups specifically dedicated to the Volpe initiative, one affiliated with MIT and the other with the city itself.

The Kendall Square Initiative, presented at the meeting by Steve Marsh, managing director of real estate for the MIT Investment Management Company, will transform six parking lots into public areas meant to bring people together. The new active open spaces may host concerts and food trucks.

Many residents voiced concerns during the Q&A session. A resident of Cambridge criticized upon the decision that large amounts of money were to be invested in renovating the Kendall T station, but nothing was planned for the Central station. “The fact that you, as an institute with the best transportation sector in the world, are missing out on it is appalling,” she said. Her remark was met by silence from the presenters.

Participants also expressed concerns about the effect the site would have on traffic flows, and on the possible rarefaction of affordable parking it would trigger. Marsh said that underground parking lots will be constructed to replace those demolished above-ground.

A resident of East Cambridge also voiced her concern about the impact construction sites such as Volpe have had on Cambridge’s landscape. “When I moved to East Cambridge in 1984, people were able to sit down and watch the fireworks on the 4th of July,” she said. “Now all they can see is the Marriott sign.”