October 12, 2017
Kendall Square in Cambridge has roared to become one of the hottest life science and tech markets in the country, making the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology an important player in real estate and brain capital.
Up the Red Line, Harvard has finally commenced a delayed push across the Charles River into Boston’s Allston neighborhood, leading some to speculate if Harvard is attempting a real estate play to mirror the other college in Cambridge.
“Harvard owns more land in Allston than they do in Cambridge, so we joke they’re an Allston university with a Cambridge campus now,” City Real Estate Development Corp. Director of Acquisitions Clifford Kensington said. “It seems like after a while of owning that land, they’re looking to put it to use.”
Harvard owns 358 acres on the Boston side of the river, as opposed to 215 in Cambridge, and many speculate it will be a key driver in a tech-focused pivot to Allston and Brighton. The university’s Allston campus, roughly 36 acres of which has been dubbed the enterprise research campus, is planned to house various startups, social enterprises and incubators.
Some may question if Greater Boston needs another innovation cluster, but not every innovation cluster in the city is in the backyard of Harvard Business School and what will be the new home for Harvard’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“Kendall Square is full, and rents for office and labs are out of the stratosphere,” Kensington said. “So it’s obvious there’s a need, and this seems like the perfectly logical next step.”
Walk around MIT and Kendall, and the concept might seem a little familiar. Harvard declined to speak on the record for this story, but it has previously said its Allston property is not meant to compete with Kendall Square. But at a time when MIT is pushing ahead with a $750M deal to redevelop the Volpe Center into a mixed-use development with nearly 2M SF of office and labs and thousands of units of housing, it is hard to believe Harvard is not looking to echo the strategy further up the river.
“I don’t know why one would be concerned about that, because it would be a tremendous asset,” Mount Vernon Co. Chairman and founder Bruce Percelay said. “I think another Kendall Square would be a good thing because it is bursting at the seams and the type of tech that is being drawn to Kendall Square is our economic sweet spot.”
Start And Stop
Before Larry Summers stepped down from his role as Harvard president in 2006, he was a driving force behind the university’s scientific push into Allston. Current Harvard President Drew Faust (who will end her tenure in June) paused plans for the $1B science center in 2009 in the wake of the university losing $11B from its endowment during the recession. The Boston Planning & Development Agency approved revisions to the project in 2016 and construction is underway on the 500K SF Harvard Science and Engineering Complex.
While Harvard may have taken its time to begin its sojourn over the river, other real estate leaders have made their own push. Mount Vernon's 132-unit The Wave will open in spring 2018 on Western Avenue, which was originally envisioned as a Boston extension of Harvard Square’s hub of cafés and independent retail offerings during the Summers years of planning for Allston.
“Western Avenue is big enough where it is not going to entirely be Kendall,” Percelay said. “It can have a very healthy mix of life science, retail and residential.”
Mount Vernon Co. and Kensington’s City Real Estate Development both have several multifamily properties in Allston and Brighton, and they are not the only developers to see a bright future ahead for these neighborhoods historically viewed as the hub of cramped student living.
The "New" Boston
“This is the new Boston,” The Hamilton Co. Chairman and CEO Harold Brown said. “We’re creating an area that is as good, if not better, than the current Back Bay and Seaport.”
The Hamilton Co. broke ground in September on a 40-unit workforce housing project at 79-83 Gardner St., which Brown said provides affordable housing with more convenience than the transit-starved Seaport. Located on the MBTA Green Line and blocks from Harvard’s Allston expansion, the company’s three-phased plan will ultimately deliver 200 affordable housing units to the burgeoning “new Boston.”
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