Harvard Square Reacts to Dramatic Renovation Proposal

When Andy Patel, owner of the news vendor located in the historic Out of Town News kiosk in Harvard Square, placed copies of The Crimson on his racks on Wednesday, he was shocked to read the front page. His fellow Square business owners, he read, want to tear down his establishment and replace it with an information stand with interactive glass walls.

The drafters of the plan for a major overhaul of the heart of Harvard Square have presented it to City Councillors and other Cambridge officials, but no one told Patel.

“I never knew about this plan before,” he said.

The 15-page set of artistic renderings, created by members of the Harvard Square Business Association, suggests transforming the Out of Town News kiosk into a state-of-the-art tourist center and installing a 23-foot by 5-foot LED screen and stadium seating in the Pit to model Harvard Square on Times Square.

Patel’s Muckey’s Corp. currently leases the Out of Town News kiosk under a five-year contract which is set to expire in 2013. Whether the lease can be extended an additional five years is at the discretion of the city. The ambitious construction plan, too, must be vetted by city officials including Mayor Henrietta J. Davis and City Manager Robert W. Healy, who both said last week that they supported the idea but have not secured funding for it.

Beautification projects in Harvard Square has been in various stages of completion for 15 years, but the proposal that would spell the end of Out of Town News is the most dramatic yet. Since its release by The Crimson on Wednesday, residents have expressed differing opinions over whether the improvements would bolster the Square’s charm or detract from it.

“I’d hate to see any of the old businesses to leave, but I understand if it’s not feasible for them to stay. Those things happen,” said Chris Kotelly, president of Crimson Corner, the competing newsstand across the street.

BUILDING ON HISTORY

The plan for revamping Sheldon Cohen Island, the stretch of red brick at the heart of Harvard Square, surprised many business owners in the Square.

Sheldon Cohen, the island’s namesake and founder of Out of Town News who manned the kiosk for 39 years, said that he was unaware of any designs for modernizing his former place of business but expressed excitement about the prospect.

“It’s bringing it up to the 21st century, looking at it that way. I think it could work together with historic and 21st century,” Cohen said.

Others, however, were more hesitant to endorse this vision.

“The screen is ridiculous,” said Edward P. VerPlanck, owner of Dickson Brothers hardware store, of the plan’s proposal to place a massive display screen on top of the main MBTA station entrance on the island.

Many of those opposed to the plan took issue with the proposal to put the Out of Town News name on a new structure with interactive tourism information displayed on its glass walls.

“It’s nice to take advantage of technology, but I love the charm and feel of it now. I don’t think there’s any need to put money into it,” said Laura Evans ’13.

Tags