Reimagining Allston

Co-developing the Allston campus may be a solution to financial constraints

Emma R. Carron

It was supposed to be a world-renowned nexus of interdisciplinary science research, intended to house the University’s recently-created Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Instead, the plot of land set aside for the Allston Science Complex is a paved-over eight-ton steel foundation, surrounded by a wooden fence and some newly planted greenery.

Western Ave., residents say, feels more like an abandoned industrial park than the “Main Street” community they were promised.

So when the University announced an indefinite halt on the construction of the Allston Science Complex, citing unforeseen financial calamities, there remained a consensus that merely beautifying what some Allston residents deride as “Harvard’s gaping hole in the ground” is far from an acceptable fix.

But administrators maintain they have not in fact, as some residents have charged, abandoned the $1 billion project, and the Allston Work Team—the faculty-led group Faust created following the Dec. announcement—is currently investigating the possibility of collaborating with other institutions going forward.

The term “co-development” has been bandied around in the past few months as the first concrete solution to Harvard’s woes in Allston.

But the proposal raises more questions than it answers, as introducing additional stakeholders in what is already a tangle of competing interests may further complicate matters.

If the University decides to adopt this approach, co-development would require a delicate touch. Harvard would need to pin down its academic and financial goals, find a suitable partner, and enter the market at the right time.

At this point, all options are open, and Harvard has not decided what type of relationship it seeks or whether co-development should even happen, University Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp says.

“We’re not sure what will come our way as we start to talk to outside potential partners, so we don’t want to say we’re going to do one thing and foreclose a possibility somewhere else,” Lapp says.

But what is clear is that the University must proceed with caution.

“Some of the things that [other universities] stressed for us are when you pursue these types of arrangements be very clear, get as much expert advice as you can, and make sure whoever you’re working with shares your aspirations and your principles,” Lapp says. “When those things don’t connect, it will not proceed well.”

THINK TWICE, IT MIGHT NOT BE ALRIGHT

Finding the right partner, in addition to developing at the right time, will be key to successful co-development, University officials say.

Looking back on the experience of real estate developers, the landscape of attempted collaborations on construction projects is rife with failure.

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