The Changing Square

University Place

After years of strained relations among Cambridge landowners, community leaders, and the University over local construction projects, a new development is finally in the works that everyone seems to approve.

Until a year ago, the intersection of Mt. Auburn St. and University Road across the street from the Square post office held nothing but a parking lot. As of next January, the same spot will sport the University Place project, a $35-million, 200,000-square foot office and retail complex with 75 condominiums and a 500-car underground garage.

Officials at Hines Industrial, the Boston-based developers of the project, said this week they are pleased because the new four-story complex will pay for itself, with retail and office leases at $25 per square foot. Nearby residents are breathing easier because the brick and limestone structure is "designed to blend with the surrounding neighborhood," according to Thomas W. Anninger, president of the Neighborhood 10 Association, a community group Community activists say University Place will be a "plus" because it will bring more residents into an area they fear is fast becoming too commercial.

"It's important to remember that Harvard Square is a viable community, not just a shopping center or tourist district," said Gladys P. Gifford, president of the Harvard Square Defense Fund. "It's a place where people live as well as work," Gifford added.

But most important, both developers and residents agree is that the project is the result of a long-missing cooperation between all concerned groups.

David Vickery, project manager for Hines, added that the decision to stress community involvement in the development negotiations also helped speed up the process. By including what Gifford called "extensive dialogue and meetings and review," Vickery said, plans for the University Place were completed within one year. By contrast, negotiations over the Parcel 1b property just blocks away, Vickery added, took almost five years.

The underlying structure for the new complex is already in place, and Vickery said work will begin soon on the brickwork and windows.