Business Owners Draft Construction Plan To Model Harvard Square on Times Square

Sheldon Cohen Island would replace Out of Town News, add LED screen

The Harvard Square Business Association has drafted a plan that proposes replacing Harvard Square’s iconic Out of Town News kiosk with an interactive information center and adding stadium seating and an approximately 23-foot-wide LED screen to the Pit.

The preliminary plan provided to The Crimson, designed by Ann Krsul Architecture and funded by the HSBA, was drafted by a committee of stakeholders including representatives of the Coop, Cambridge Savings Bank, Harvard University, and other businesses in the HSBA, according to John P. DiGiovanni, the president of the HSBA.

The planning committee has met recently with many elected and unelected Cambridge officials to discuss and review the plans.

Mayor Henrietta J. Davis said the plans will be vetted by community members and city leaders before moving forward, and City Manager Robert W. Healy cautioned that funding for the renovation has not been solicited or allocated yet.

“There are some things I liked about it, some things I didn’t like,” Davis said. “It’s very good that the businesses got out there and did some work. Sometimes you have to propose an option before people really decide to do something.”

21ST-CENTURY IMPROVEMENT

The discussion of the plans follows the completion of the third phase of an ongoing city improvement project that has brought repaved streets and new sidewalks to several parts of Harvard Square since it began in 2006.

Sheldon Cohen Island, the central gateway to Harvard Square that is home to the Pit and the Out of Town News kiosk, has been left untouched since the MBTA rerouted the Red Line 20 years ago. Now it will see construction next year when the MBTA renovates the elevator located there to meet court-mandated accessibility standards.

“As the rest of the area around the plaza really began to be upgraded and look nice, the plaza really became clear it needed some more attention,” DiGiovanni said.

DiGiovanni, who leases properties on Church Street, in the Garage retail complex on JFK Street, and in other parts of the Square, has been a leader in the beautification projects in the Square since the publication in 1998 of a document published by the HSBA called “Polishing the Trophy,” which suggested improvements to the streets, sidewalks, and lighting in Cambridge’s preeminent tourism hub.

He likened today’s 15-page document outlining the new vision for Sheldon Cohen Island to the landmark publication of 14 years ago, which eventually led to major construction projects.

“Just as ‘Polishing the Trophy’ started, we thought, ‘Let’s do something that can begin the discussion,’” DiGiovanni said. “Some images and renderings can help stimulate some creativity and hopefully some collaboration.”

The new plan would model the busy heart of Harvard Square on the look and feel of New York City’s Times Square, DiGiovanni said.

The document says, “The primary goal of this plan is to continue to use this world-recognized and beloved urban space as a meeting place while enhancing its communal features and uses.”

Artistic renderings in the proposal depict a new “Red Line Theater”: stadium seating looking down on the Pit and the double-sided LED screen standing behind the seating overlooking the entrance to the T station.

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