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University Wins Land Auction With $151M Bid

Harvard may relocate graduate school to Allston

By Imtiyaz H. Delawala, Crimson Staff Writer

The University dipped into its swollen coffers yesterday, cementing its plans for future development across the Charles River with a $151 million bid for 48 acres of additional land in Allston.

Known as Allston Landing North, the 48 acres located directly south of the Harvard Business School campus were put up for sale by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA) in a blind auction yesterday afternoon at the MTA Transportation building in Boston.

At 2:30 p.m., in the MTA boardroom, the University's $151,751,636 bid for the parcel of land was revealed as the presumptive winner.

After the auction, University spokesperson Joe Wrinn pointed out that the last four digits of the bid price for the land--which Harvard's long-range planners are eyeing as the possible site for one of the University's graduate schools--were 1636, the year Harvard was founded.

Genzyme Corporation--a biotechnology company based in Kendall Square--submitted the only other bid, offering $25 million for the parcel of land nearest its 500 Soldier Field Rd. location. Potential buyers were allowed to bid for one of two parcels of land, or bid on both together.

The University's bid will now go to the MTA Authority Board, which will most likely approve Harvard as the "highest responsible bidder" at its July 11 meeting, after financial verification is complete.

University officials reacted with satisfaction to the tentative purchase.

"It's an extraordinary opportunity," said Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Paul S. Grogan. "It's an historical accident, in a city this densely populated and old, to have the opportunity to acquire property contiguous to existing holdings."

And in a press release, Harvard's Vice President for Administration Sally Zeckhauser said the new land will allow the University to begin moving forward with development proposals in Allston, such as relocating an entire graduate school to the area.

"This property enables the University to think more flexibly about its future and, when added to the land Harvard already owns in the area, should allow for a broad range of activities, much like the Cambridge campus," Zeckhauser said.

A Growing Presence

The bid comes on the heels of the University's 1997 announcement that it had had secretly purchased 52.6 acres of land in Allston over the course of nine years. Working through a Boston real estate developer, Harvard bought $88 million worth of land while hiding its identity to avoid being overcharged.

Allston residents and city officials loudly criticized the University at the time for its secrecy.

Paul Berkeley, president of the Allston Civic Association (ACA), said that Harvard has been much more open about its current purchase plans.

"They've been telling us about [their plans] all along," Berkeley said. "This was not a secret."

And with space in Cambridge increasingly limited, the purchase could not have come at a better time for the University.

Harvard is still going through difficult negotiations involving the proposed Knafel Center for Government and International Study near Mid-Cambridge. Discussions have also recently begun for a proposed modern art museum on Memorial Drive, but have encountered strong opposition from residents.

But some in Allston seem open to the University developing and improving the area.

Berkeley said that the University's current Allston holdings are mostly "obsolete, industrial land"--an eyesore for most residents.

"When you come across the river, what you see is the Harvard Business School on the right, and tractor trailer trucks on the left," Berkeley said.

Berkeley said he hopes that the newly acquired property will allow the University to clean up the property while shifting use of the land to developments that face Allston residents.

"They can treat us as they do the river," Berkeley said.

Allston resident and former ACA President Ray Mallone, who was present at the auction, said the purchase will benefit Allston as well as Harvard.

"We have the opportunity to develop and shape our community," Mallone said. "This just gives us more territory to work with."

University President Neil L. Rudenstine said in a press release that the land will not be developed without the input of the Allston community and city officials.

"We also look forward to continuing our constructive discussions with our Allston neighbors and the City of Boston as we seek to craft a shared vision for how this space might be used in the most beneficial fashion," Rudenstine said.

High Hurdles

But before development plans occur, the University must clear hurdles to completely secure the land.

Besides the Genzyme plant, the land the University plans to purchase is currently occupied by CSX Transportation, with much of the area covered by rail yards and warehouses. The company has a permanent easement on the land, allowing their trains to continue running through the area even if Harvard purchases it.

The routes will most likely have to be relocated before the land could be developed.

"As a development area, it has to be regarded as extremely difficult," Grogan said. "It's going to be complex."

But Grogan said that the University will work with the railroad and other existing tenants to clear the way for development.

"We will be very respectful of those on the land," Grogan said. "We have had preliminary conversations and will work very closely with them."

And Grogan emphasized that the University's desire to develop the land outweighs the costs.

"This bid represents the best assessment of the value of the property to us," Grogan said. "It may not be the same as someone else, but that doesn't concern us."

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