Although its year-long moratorium on property purchases in Allston will expire in two weeks, Harvard does not intend to purchase more real estate in the neighborhood in the coming months, according to University Executive Vice President Katharine N. Lapp.
“We certainly don’t have any plans to purchase more property in Allston,” Lapp said. “We are focusing on the property that we do own.”
Last spring, the University placed a moratorium on its property purchases in Allston so it could “evaluate options of the construction phasing for the science complex site,” according to University spokeswoman Lauren Marshall.
One year later, Harvard still seems to be considering strategies for moving forward, garnering a mixed reception from the community.
Lapp, who oversees Harvard’s expansion into Allston, said that the University is focusing mainly on property stewardship and leasing its empty holdings.
“We’ve improved some of the properties to bring them up to a level where they are rentable, and we have looked at ways to bring life to some of our holdings,” Lapp said.
Lapp specifically pointed to the empty Citgo station site as evidence of Harvard’s efforts.
“We’ve cleaned up the Citgo station,” she said, noting that 13 brokers have been to see the property. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of foot traffic going through that site, trying to come up with ideas, trying to come up with ways to find the right kind of tenant.”
In the past month, the University has announced two new leases, one to the Earthwatch Institute, a citizen science organization, and one to the Silk Road Project, an organization that promotes artistic innovation.
The leases have elicited a mixed reaction from the community, with some residents concerned that nonprofits will not create the feeling of a “main street” that they were hoping to see on Western Ave.
“The idea of Western Avenue as a main street is a long-established, officially-accepted goal of the city of Boston,” said Allston resident Harry Mattison, citing the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s 2005 document “North Allston: Strategic Framework for Planning.”
Mattison said that he did not object to Earthwatch and Silk Road per se, but wants to see a mixture of different kinds of businesses along Western Ave.
“Are there going to be another five businesses more similar to Mahoney’s Garden Center [another business that leases from Harvard] or another five businesses similar to Earthwatch?” Mattison asked.
Lapp defended leasing property to nonprofits, saying that the employees would provide commerce for the already existing businesses.
“It’s bringing a lot more people into the community—a lot more people to go down Western Ave. to buy a piece of pizza, go to the dry cleaners, or to the car wash—so we’re creating activity in the area,” she said.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority also said they had a positive reaction to the leases.
“We are, of course, supportive of adding more ‘main street’ businesses to Western Avenue and will continue to assist in attracting those kinds of tenants, but for now we are supportive and happy to welcome these two organizations to Boston,” wrote BRA spokeswoman Jessica Shumaker in an e-mailed statement.
—Staff writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.