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Work Team Recommends Rethinking of Harvard's Allston Expansion

Recommendations suggest that the University partner with private sector to fund development

By Tara W. Merrigan, Crimson Staff Writer

Updated at 5:50 p.m. on 6/16/2011.

A set of highly anticipated guidelines from an advisory group has recommended that Harvard pursue an aggressive strategy of development in Allston, focusing on developing a commercially oriented research park, expanding faculty and graduate housing, and constructing a redesigned Science Complex.

Construction on much of Harvard’s Allston development was halted in 2009 amid budgetary concerns, but the recommendations released Wednesday by the the Harvard Allston Work Team—a 14-person group of deans, alumni, and faculty members—do not make clear where funding for the construction plans outlined in the recommendations will come from.

“Allston is integral to Harvard’s future, and these ideals both affirm previous planning principles and inject fresh thinking, particularly in their focus on innovation and on private sector partnerships for near term development,” University President Drew G. Faust said in a press release.

The Work Team’s central recommendations are that Harvard resume the development of a science center on the existing Western Avenue site, create an enterprise research campus in Allston Landing North, engage third party developers to construct housing complexes for graduate students and faculty in Barry’s Corner, develop plans for the land currently housing the Charlesview Apartments, and explore the possibility of constructing a hotel and conference center on Western Avenue.

The recommendations suggest that Harvard will retool its financing strategy for its Allston developments. If implemented, the recommendations would set up several sources of income for the University that may be used to bankroll the real estate developments in the neighborhood. The work team recommendations suggest that the University develop, for example, a hotel and private sector office and lab space, two developments that may help Harvard defray costs.

The report suggested that the upcoming capital campaign would also provide funding for this project and called the campaign “a unique opportunity to facilitate and support development of this site.” It also urges Harvard to consider the “programmatic needs” of the School of Public Health, which currently lacks office and teaching space to meet demand.

The School has leased nearby property in order to meet its space needs, but those moves have been seen as stop gaps measures and are unlikely to be viable as a long-term solution.

Work Team Co-Chairs Bill Purcell, Harvard Business School Professor Peter Tufano ’79, and Graduate School of Design Professor Alex Krieger stressed the practicality and feasibility of the five-point recommendations.

“We think that these recommendations are practical, tangible, and viable,” Purcell said.

The recommendations suggest that the University shelve designs for the billion dollar mecca for stem cell research that would have been the Allston Science Complex and consider building a 500,000 to 700,000 square foot complex that would be devoted to global health research, imaging technology, and/or stem cell research.

The recommendations also suggest that Harvard undertake several constructions projects with other institutions, a process known as “co-development.” It is unclear, however, who exactly the University would partner with, but the Work Team recommendations sound an optimistic note about interest from local biotech firms.

“Co-development will be a very important part of what is ahead,” Purcell said.

One such project would be the development of an innovation and enterprise research center on Harvard’s 36-acre Allston Landing North, which is located off of Western Ave.

The campus “would serve as a dynamic center for health and life sciences innovation that would attract research companies, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and biotech companies,” according to the report. Harvard would sign long term leases with private businesses and organizations to defray the costs of the University’s development in Allston.

Inspired by such centers at other universities like Stanford, the Work Team suggested the creation of a campus that would be a mix of faculty research facilities and private-sector businesses.

Tufano said that Allston Landing North will serve as a “gateway into the Harvard community and it's gateway out from the Harvard community into the broader business world.”

He added that the Work Team was “heartened by the indications of interest by various parties” in co-development at Allston Landing North.

The report proposes that Harvard hire a third party developer to construct and operate mixed-used structures on the northwest corner of Barry’s Corner, which is currently a parking lot.

These buildings would provide housing for graduate students and faculty and bring retail stores and other commercial amenities to the beleaguered intersection, long envisioned as the hub of a “main street” environment that the University promised to put in place on Western Ave. as it constructed academic facilities in Allston.

“We don’t want to Harvard-ize Barry's corner,” Krieger said of the building graduate and faculty housing at Barry’s Corner. “This will create more diversity for the neighborhood.”

“We learned to balance our aspirations with the realities of, for example, our  ability to finance them,” Tufano said. “We have to have high aspirations as a university but at the same time they have to be practical.”

With the Work Team process finished, the reins of the University’s Allston planning will be handed over to Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp and Alan M. Garber ’76, who was recently appointed provost.

Lapp emphasized in an interview with The Crimson that these recommendations are only suggestions and do not constitute concrete plans, stating that the report’s recommendations “complement but are not dependent on each other.”

But a statement from Faust suggests that she is on board with the plans.

“We look forward to seeking development partners for housing and for an enterprise research campus, consulting with the deans and the new provost on next steps in science, and working with the broader community on other next steps,” Faust said in a press release.

The report did not specify when the University might resume or complete the construction of these projects. But Christine M. Heenan, vice president for government, community, and public affairs, did suggest that  “if Harvard pursues some or all of these recommendations, we project that there will be major construction projects underway in Allston from the present until at least 2017.”

The Harvard Business School is in the midst of remodeling another Harvard property on Western Ave. that will open this fall as a business innovation center. The Business School, whose campus is located in Allston, is also in the midst of planning the construction of  Tata Hall, which will house facilities for the School’s Executive Education program.

The University halted construction in Allston in Dec. 2009 due to fallout from the previous year’s financial crisis. After Faust announced that Harvard would pause construction, she tasked the Work Team with developing proposals for Harvard’s construction in the neighborhood based upon various resources, including feedback from Allston residents.

Allston residents have been highly critical of the process that produced Wednesday’s recommendations and have bemoaned their lack of input regarding the University’s long-term planning for their large real estate holdings in the community.

The Work Team’s recommendations address some concerns raised by residents, but members of the Allston community have said in recent weeks that the types of businesses that Harvard has brought to the neighborhood do not provide the type of goods and services that used to anchor Western Ave.

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu.

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