University Lands Allston Acreage

Crimson Graphic

Harvard recently bid $75 million for this triangle-shaped parcel of land in South Allston, currently owned by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.. But the property is severely encumbered by CSX railways and easements.

As the highest bidder in an auction for 91 acres of severely encumbered Allston land, Harvard will likely expand its land holdings across the river by nearly one third this Friday—but the new land could come with some heavy political baggage.

Harvard made two bids on the 91 acres of land—one for the bulk of the property, and a separate $5 million offer for 1.4 acres that was the only contested piece—to the property’s seller, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

Although Harvard was the only bidder on most of the land, a bidding war of sorts did erupt over the tiny 1.4 acre piece of the land located between Harvard and Houghton Chemical, a small industrial company that currently operates on the parcel.

The company made a $500,000 bid for the property—and several local leaders have publicly urged the Turnpike Authority to accept Houghton’s bid over Harvard’s.

But Harvard’s approximately $5 million offer will probably win the auction for the contested piece, according to Turnpike Authority spokesperson Sean O’Neil.

“We still have to cross the t’s and dot the i’s, but Harvard came in as the highest bidder in both cases, and we are awarding the land based on the highest bid price for it, so the land’s future is pretty clear,” said O’Neil.

Harvard bid about $20 per square foot for the bulk of the 91-acre parcel, but the University quadrupled its offer to about $80 per square foot for the contested parcel, according to O’Neil.

The University’s aggressive pursuit of the small parcel has raised the eyebrows of Boston-area politicians.

“It’s good to have Harvard in your neighborhood, but it’s not good when Harvard takes away your neighborhood,” said Senator Steven A. Tolman, one of four local leaders who called for the Turnpike Authority to reject Harvard’s bid on the Houghton parcel. “There are a lot of very significant positives to having Harvard in your neighborhood, however this action on the 1.4 acre parcel seems totally inappropriate.”

The president of Houghton Chemical—which produces industrial chemicals used in ink, photographic film and pharmaceuticals—said that the company’s location in Allston was integral to the company’s identity and added that he hopes Harvard won’t make them leave.

“Their offer clearly shows that they did not want us to get the land, and Harvard is a very powerful institution—richer than some small countries—and someday they are going to have a very beautiful, expansive campus in Allston,” said Bruce E. Houghton, president of the company and grandson of the owner. “Certainly, we were a little perplexed by Harvard’s bid—but Harvard is my new landlord and I look forward to working with them.”

Houghton said that the company has tried to build connections with the neighborhood and its residents by giving first priority to Allston residents when hiring and donating money to struggling non-profits in the neighborhood as well as local sports programs.

“Many years ago, we decided that we wanted to be different from other companies, that we wanted to be part of the surrounding community and establish ourselves as a resident in that community, and we’ve done that,” Houghton said yesterday. “That kind of thing is not easily replicable—we’ve been here since 1960 and don’t want to move.”

The Boston Chamber of Commerce named Houghton Chemical Greater Boston Business of the Year in 2001, citing the company’s “strong community service.”

A Harvard official said yesterday that the University has no intention of forcing Houghton Chemical off the property.

“We have no plans to change this property in the foreseeable future,” said University spokesperson Lauren Marshall. “This is a long-term investment and we are thinking about the needs of the University in the future.”