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To Help Plan Allston's Future, Harvard Hires Two Consulting Firms

Firms retained to provide advice on real estate market and large developments

Harvard has hired two real estate consulting firms, Leggat McCall and McCall & Almy, to help formulate a blueprint for the University’s future development in Allston, but there remains no clear time line or concrete plan for the expansion at this point.

The two firms have been retained by the University to provide expert advice on the real estate market and large developments, according to Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp.

The University is currently gathering information to determine how it will proceed with plans to develop its property holdings in the neighborhood after it halted construction on the $1 billion dollar Harvard Allston Science Complex in Dec. 2009.

Both firms have experience working with large real estate developments and other university expansions.

University officials have not disclosed when work on the expansion will resume or what shape plans will take. They have floated the idea that they might co-develop the property with other firms or possibly non-profits, but have emphasized in recent interviews that all options remain on the table. They have yet to present a time line for the project.

“We’re doing a thorough review and going to take however long it takes to do the job right,” said Sandy Tierney, one of the McCall & Almy consultants working on Allston development options.

According to Lapp, the Allston Work Team—the organization charged with defining Harvard’s future in Allston—have been presenting their needs to the consulting team since this summer, and the consultants have returned with development strategies. Lapp said the Allston Work Team will present some of its findings to the University by mid-2011.

As part of a broader fact-finding mission, the Work Team has been visiting other universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, San Diego, over the past year that have engaged in expansions similar to the Allston development.

In the past nine months, Allston residents have repeatedly voiced discontent over what they say is the University’s unwillingness to involve them in the planning process.

While Lapp said the firms were hired only for the purpose of aiding Harvard’s “internal consultations,” Tierney said he and his colleagues are mindful of community concerns.

“Of course the considerations of the community are a very important part of what’s been done in Allston and always will be,” he said. “In every option we’ve looked at there is a community consideration.”

The University’s expansion in Allston would have revitalized the city with a vibrant, modern cityscape, anchored by Harvard’s Science Complex. Now, all that remains of that development is a large paved-over lot adjacent to Western Ave.

In recent weeks, there has been debate in the community over the relocation of a McDonald’s from a Harvard property to a site 75 feet down Western Ave., enabling the relocation of the Charlesview apartments—a cluster of 213 low-income housing units—to proceed as part of a land-swap between the building’s board and the University.

“I feel like we’ve come to the end of the road, and we’ve found a Harvard McDonald’s at the end of the road,” said Brent Whelan ’73, an Allston resident.

Residents say this is the most involved Harvard has been in the community in months.

Lapp points to Work Team Co-Chair Bill Purcell’s monthly coffee hours with residents as a forum for community members to voice concerns. University officials have also in the past emphasized initiatives like the recently opened batting cages and Education Portal as part of their effort to create a vibrant community despite the construction halt.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at segroopm@fas.harvard.edu.

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