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Businesses Prepare for Harvard Square Construction

Construction Preparation
Cambridge hosted a workshop in the Smith Campus center to prepare local business for upcoming construction.

The Cambridge Community Development Department hosted a workshop in the Smith Campus Center to prepare Harvard Square business owners for an oncoming influx of local construction projects on Wednesday afternoon.

The Square has faced an onslaught of closings in recent weeks as large-scale, long-planned construction projects, including the development of a shopping mall on Brattle Street, have entered their first stages.

Melissa A. Miguel, a supervising engineer at the Cambridge Department of Public Works who helped organize the workshop, laid out an approximate timeline for a variety of other upcoming projects in the Square in an interview Wednesday.

Miguel said water main construction and utility work on Eliot Street will begin within the next few weeks. She also said that work on the Harvard Square kiosk and plaza, which is set to begin in late spring, will last from 18-24 months, and that construction on the MBTA, which is set to begin in late June, will last for about six months.

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At the meeting, CCDD presented business owners with a folder of pamphlets that laid out steps entrepreneurs could take to prepare their physical stores and their financial assets for the construction projects.

Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, cited the challenges posed by past construction projects in discussing how business owners will prepare for the coming months in an interview Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, when the project is done and it is such a promising and wonderful amenity for Harvard Square, these projects will be awesome. But it will be a challenge to get through,” she said.

During the meeting, Cambridge city officials briefed business owners on potential issues that may arise during the construction period, including hits to the personal finances of business owners and questions of liability for store damage. Officials advised owners to photograph and record their stores.

Several local entrepreneurs expressed concern over whether construction workers would abide by the traffic patterns and parking regulations in the Square.

Pardis Saffari, senior economic development manager for the City of Cambridge, acknowledged in an interview after the meeting that “people’s primary concerns were the impact to access to their business, and access for their customers to get in and out, so in Harvard Square that means making sure the T is open… making sure there’s parking for customers.”

Ned P. Ver Planck of the Dickson Brothers Company, a store on Brattle Street, said he supported the construction projects “if [they] can stay less commercialized.” He, however, added that “the two years, three years of construction is not gonna go well.”

Ultimately, Miguel encouraged entrepreneurs to be proactive in planning for the construction.

“It’s much easier to accommodate things now than when there’s a ten-foot hole in the ground,” Miguel said.

— Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

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