A Short Introduction to Harvard's Diverse Ownings

When most students think of Harvard, they think of places they know--the Yard, the Science Center, even the Quad. But hidden in Harvard's array of holdings are a forest, a villa in Italy and cottages in Maine.

Who knew?

"What Harvard owns is divided into two portfolios," says Director of University and Commercial Real Estate Scott Levitan. "One is the group that has educational value for the University. But there are also real estate holdings that the management company deals with."

That second component comes into play with some of Harvard's more eclectic holdings.

Outside of the Cambridge area, there's the Harvard Forest; Red Top, where Harvard crew trains for its annual race with Yale; and the Harvard Depository, the mysterious source for Harvard's overflow library books. (For more holdings, please see box at left.)

Within Cambridge and Boston, though, the University faces development constraints that make large-scale constructions like these difficult.

The 'Red Line Agreement' between the City of Cambridge and Harvard determines a specific area beyond which Harvard cannot expand, making most of Harvard's development take place on land it already owns.

"When you thinks of expansion, you think of buying more land," says Director of Residential Real Estate Susan Keller. "But we only have a certain amount of parcels left in Cambridge."

Instead, Keller says, Harvard re-uses much of its land for purposes that fit the University's current needs.

In the past few years, Harvard has--at least in Cambridge--sold far more properties than it has acquired. Since 1996, Harvard has sold 19 buildings in Cambridge, Keller says.

But outside of Cambridge, Harvard's presence is still on the rise. With 52 acres of land in Allston and several other small residence complexes scattered across Boston, and a campus at Longwood, the University is by no means underrepresented across the river.

One example of this is Harvard's holdings in Roxbury's Mission Park.

The faculty and staff working at Harvard's Mission Park hospital and utilities requested a residential space, Levitan says.

"Mission Park came out of Harvard wanting to work with and stabilize the neighborhood," Levitan says. "It was not created as an economic benefit for Harvard."

But Harvard is at the mercy of the cities of Boston and Cambridge, and obtaining their explicit permission is not always easy.

With the agreement that created the parking garage and building across from the Charles Hotel, for example, the University ran into many problems.

"It was a very contentious arrangement with the developer," Levitan says. "There were houses on the site and people were evicted. Harvard has an interest in that property. The outcome of the building was altered because of Harvard stepping in, and the result is something that is significantly improved because of its location."

The future of Harvard's development, says Director of Community Relations Kevin A. McCluskey, lies with Allston.

"The acquisition of the 52 acres of land in Allston was done with an eye toward the future and Harvard's future growth," McCluskey says. "That has been the most significant growth spurt in Boston in the last decade."

The University is also considering other options for expansion.

"The hypothetical scenario," McCluskey says, "involves the possibility of a few of Harvard's graduate schools moving from Cambridge to Allston."

Though Harvard is involved in cooperative discussions with the Allston community, the University is not anxious to overstep its bounds.

"It is a natural course of what has been a rational growth pattern for the university over several decades time," McCluskey says. "The University has to take a very long view of its land need and use."