Harvard Hires Real Estate Veteran to Develop Allston 'Enterprise' Campus

Harvard’s loosely defined “Enterprise Research Campus,” a planned 36-acre center for entrepreneurship in Allston, now has a leader to guide its construction.

Harvard announced on Thursday the hiring of real estate agent Steven D. Fessler for the newly created position, “head of enterprise real estate.” Fessler will take office on April 18.

The idea for the enterprise research campus first emerged in 2011, when the Harvard Allston Work Team, a 14-member group of faculty and alumni commissioned by University President Drew G. Faust to guide Harvard’s Allston planning, recommended the campus’ construction.

When completed, the research campus will lie across from the Business School and adjacent to the proposed science and engineering complex, where roughly two-thirds of the SEAS faculty are slated to move in the fall of 2020. Harvard has yet to release details concerning the buildings meant to fill the enterprise research campus.

Broadly, Fessler’s responsibilities consist of overseeing the enterprise research campus’s development, University Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp wrote in an email, adding that he will work closely with “folks across the University” in addition to real estate developers and other agencies hoping to relocate to Allston and will report directly to her.

John A. Bruno, an Allston resident and chair of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, said Fessler’s hiring represents a step in the right direction.

“Harvard University seldom seems to have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to real estate innovation and development,” he said. “This gentleman [Fessler] may be able to think more about the whole of the community… This may just help us see what Harvard would like to do and what the community would like to do.”

Lapp wrote that Harvard’s rationale for creating the new position included the unique opportunities for its Allston landholdings, which are “unlike any [opportunities] facing a university of our size.” The University intends to “move forward” strategically and thoughtfully, she added, and Fessler’s appointment is the first step.

Harvard has already begun attempts to convert Allston into an entrepreneurial center. In 2011, Harvard completed construction of the Harvard Innovation Lab, a co-working space designed to provide resources for student start-ups, and in 2014, the University finished building the Launch Lab, a similar facility for alumni. A third building geared specifically toward student and alumni biotechnology ventures will open this fall.

“Harvard’s enterprise research campus presents an unparalleled opportunity to enhance the power of collaboration among the area’s academic institutions, hospitals, and research-based industries,” Faust said in a press release.

A Stanford graduate, Fessler until recently led SDF Properties LLC, a New England-based real estate investment and advisory firm he founded. Prior to working at SDF, Fessler held senior leadership positions at various Boston real estate agencies.

Harvard conducted a “very thorough,” months-long search process via a third-party search firm before finally settling on Fessler, according to Lapp. Now, she said, Fessler is “eager” to get started.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the team at Harvard, ” Fessler said in a press release. “The progress now unfolding in Allston is truly exciting... [and] the transformative potential of this new center of innovation is absolutely tremendous."

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at hannah.natanson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

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