Shovels in hand, University President Drew G. Faust, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and Allston community members gathered Friday to ceremonially break ground on the Barry’s Corner Residential and Retail Commons, the first of many construction projects Harvard will be carrying out in Allston over the next ten years.
The groundbreaking came after months of heated negotiations over the $43 million Allston Community Benefits Package, which was approved by the Harvard-Allston Task Force and presented to the Boston Redevelopment Authority in November. The Commons will be located on a 2.67-acre site at the intersection of Western Avenue and North Harvard Street, and will be home to 325 rental units and more than 40,000 square feet of retail space.
At the groundbreaking, which took place at the Harvard Allston Education Portal on the site of the future development, Faust, Menino, and members of Harvard’s real estate partner for the project, Samuels & Associates, spoke about the significance of the project for Allston and the importance of cooperation within the community throughout the planning process.
“It’s a $150 million project, just think about that, it’s going to make our economy grow,” Menino said, adding that the combined residential, retail, and open-space development represents the first time Harvard has built a mixed-use space on its property.
Speaking after a brief promotional video on Allston and Cambridge’s combined role as “a campus for Harvard’s next century,” Faust said that she expects the new development will bring “new energy to the intersection between Harvard and the Allston community.”
Faust and Menino both spoke about the successful relationship between the University and the city, with each emphasizing the congenial relations under their respective administrations.
After remarks by the two leaders, representatives from Samuels & Associates spoke about the importance of the Barry’s Corner project, the “launching point” for Harvard’s Institutional Master Plan for Allston, according to Leslie G. Cohen, the senior vice president of development at Samuels & Associates.
Allston community members who gathered for the groundbreaking, which featured catered food from Clover and The Taco Truck, expressed their support for the new development, even if the planning process has been taxing.
“I’m really excited, I think it’s great. Anything is better than a parking lot,” Allston resident Jessica Robertson said, gesturing out the window of the Education Portal. In particular, she said that the new gathering spaces are much needed, noting that the state senator from the area holds his office hours at the Swiss Bakers cafe for lack of other options.
Robertson said that she hopes the development can begin mending relations between the University and the neighborhood after a difficult planning process.
“I hope that we can build some trust...improve the process going forward as people regain trust,” Robertson said.
Kathy Moody, an Allston resident and employee at Harvard Business School, added her own support and said she looks forward to new shopping options in the development. “We’ve lived in this neighborhood for 32 years. It’s nice to see progress,” she said.
Even detractors of the project said that Harvard has been diligent about listening to community feedback. Robert Breslin, an Allston resident and a Harvard-employed accountant, said that although he believes there are too few parking spaces in the project, the planning was done responsively.
“There’ve been so many meetings. They’ve been very good in working with the community,” he added.
—Staff writer Ivan B.K. Levingston can be reached at IvanLevingston@college.harvard.edu.