MTA Clears Harvard's Allston Land Purchase

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA) formally approved the sale of 48 acres of Allston land to Harvard for $151 million Wednesday, opening the way for future University development across the Charles River.

Located south of the Harvard Business School campus, the property known as Allston Landing North has been coveted by the University for future development, including the possible relocation of one of Harvard's graduate schools.

Vice President of Government, Community and Public Affairs Paul S. Grogan said that the purchase will allow Harvard to change the direction of its future development away from the already heavily crowded Cambridge.

"This has great historical significance for the University and for Boston," Grogan said. "In the future, Harvard will become much more of a Boston university."

Grogan also said that the purchase will be one of the lasting achievements of President Neil L. Rudenstine, who has announced he will leave his position next June.

"When people look back on the tenure of Neil Rudenstine, securing this land will be one of his most significant achievements," Grogan said.

But a long planning and negotiation process must occur before the land--which is covered with train tracks and warehouses--can be developed.

CSX Transportation currently has a permanent easement on the land, allowing their trains to run through the area even after the sale. Genzyme Corporation, a biotechnology company, also has a plant on the site.

Negotiations for relocations of the train routes will begin soon, but have no definite time frame.

"We've only had preliminary discussions with the railroad," Grogan said. "Over time, we will go more deeply into discussions."

Harvard officials will also now begin working with Boston city officials and Allston community organizations to create a master plan for developing the nearly 100 acres the University has acquired in the last ten years.

"We're working very actively with the community," Grogan said.

And as part of the final sale, Harvard has agreed to give an option to Boston University (BU) to purchase a ten-acre portion of the land. The parcel offered is south of Cambridge Street, cutting it off from the rest of the land Harvard purchased.

"BU approached us and talked about their interest in that parcel, which is of less interest to Harvard," Grogan said. "We saw an opportunity to accommodate another university so we figured, why not do it?"

Boston University spokesperson Kevin Carleton said BU wanted the option for possible long-range development on its western border, but said BU still has to evaluate the land before it is purchased.

"We see the potential for campus and other uses," Carleton said. "But it is a long-range process."

Grogan said any final sale to BU would most likely not be made for "three or four years."

The University offered $151,751,636 for all 48 acres of MTA land at a blind auction on June 29, but had to undergo financial verification before the sale could be completed, answering mandatory questions such as whether the University has ever filed for bankruptcy or been convicted of a felony.

University and MTA officials now have 45 days to complete paperwork on the sale.

MTA officials were enthusiastic about the sale, hoping the funds from Harvard will offset deficits from Boston's Central Artery project--known as the "Big Dig"--which has had massive cost overruns.

The MTA board approved placing the money from the sale in a reserve fund to be invested before it is used for future construction costs.

"The likelihood of getting more money for this project from the state or federal level is nonexistent," said MTA Chair Andrew S. Natsios. "There's just no more stomach for it."