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Harvard Moves Forward with Development Plans in Allston

Harvard University is the oldest and one of the most respected colleges in the United States. With so much history, it can be tempting to think of the school as a stagnant place. However, nothing could be further from the truth. As employees and students at Harvard University continue to press on with the latest innovations, real estate developers are also looking to transform this school with so much tradition into a hub of new growth and activity. The good news is that recent development plans should foster both academic and real estate goals.

This is the message conveyed by Harvard's recent announcement of the Enterprise Research Campus. The university filed paperwork for a Master Plan and released new information about its plans to move forward in the development process. According to university officials, the end goal is to transform a vacant lot into a dynamic center for learning, innovation, commerce and student life.

A Closer Look at the Enterprise Research Campus

According to details released in the Master Plan, development is slated for a vacant lot in Allston. This lot has been targeted to become an extension of the campus, which has been steadily growing over the years. However, this is not a typical expansion project. Specifically, Harvard University officials hope to establish an entirely new type of real estate project. Certainly, there have been other expansions in recent years, but the unique qualities of this development plan deserve a closer look.

This campus extension has been conceived as a mixed-use space. This means that the buildings will not be solely intended for academic use. Instead, the Enterprise Research Campus will include commercial and residential functionality as well. To the average citizen, this may not seem overly innovative. However, it is worth noting that this is the first such development in Harvard’s long and storied history. No other projects of a similar nature have been attempted in its 400 years of existence.

Because this is such a stark departure from normal development for colleges and universities, it is safe to assume that the idea has been percolating for quite some time. In fact, officials indicate that discussions first started more than 15 years ago. Given the length of time it has taken to get to this point, it is no wonder that officials seem particularly excited to finally be making the announcement that development will be moving ahead.

To gain public support, officials released information about the specifications of the Allston extension. In all, the Enterprise Research Campus will include up to 900,000 square feet of new campus space. The lot itself is 14 acres, making it a sizeable addition to Harvard’s sprawling presence. Other specifics for the development have been included in the December reveal. The main development will include two buildings designated for office or lab use. This means that these buildings will serve more academic purposes, benefiting students, faculty and staff. This additional academic space is an essential element to allow Harvard to continue to retain its elite position in higher education.

However, since the development is intended for mixed uses, there will also be commercial space available. This part of the development is especially enticing for the broader community. In particular, Harvard officials hope to build a hotel and conference center. This building would be 250,000 square feet. The obvious benefits of such a building are fairly easy to discern. With increased research and academic needs, people will travel from around the world to participate. The hotel will allow the school to host conferences on-campus, and it will give guests convenient access to everything needed for a relaxing and productive trip.

In addition to the hotel, there will also be residential development. Such residential development is always in high demand. All areas around Harvard struggle to keep up with the housing demands of students, faculty and staff. By adding more living space in proximity to campus, it is possible for more people to find housing with easy access to school facilities.

Real estate must serve a purpose, but it also must be profitable. This is something that Harvard officials have understood in their development so far. Therefore, in order to promote funding for this project, officials have also included additional commercial space as part of the Enterprise Research Campus. All residential housing will include retail space on the ground floor. This type of retail space is always popular with consumers and lucrative for business owners. Since this space will be located directly on campus, it will be an area with a lot of foot traffic. This means that businesses in this development will have a better chance to turn a profit in a short amount of time.

While all of these additions to the real estate plan are exciting, there is one additional practical consideration that officials have included. Along with all the academic, commercial and residential development, the plan also includes ample space for parking. Officials estimate that the Enterprise Research Campus will accommodate up to 900 parking spaces. This will be spread across three surface lots, which will be poised to provide parking for students, faculty members, customers and guests.

It is worth noting that the plans released by officials do include room for additional growth. If the Allston extension is as successful as officials hope, the parking lots can easily be transformed in the future. This is why the lots will all be surface only instead of ramps. Surface lots allow for future development to be easily added as needs develop in the area. By working this room for growth into the initial plans, Harvard officials are successfully planning for the future.

A Broader Development Context

Although the Enterprise Research Campus may seem somewhat disconnected from the rest of the school, it is important to remember that there are multiple sections of the university that spread out from the main campus. This Allston development is strategically poised to thoroughly connect with other nearby areas of the school. In particular, Allston is easily linked to areas like Cambridge or the Longwood Medical Area. Moreover, the area is also situated with easy access to other popular commercial and business centers. This includes Boston’s Innovation District, which is an apt pairing for the research and academic portion of the real estate plans.

While the plans are noteworthy in and of themselves, they must be understood in a broader context of the university’s goals. This is more than a real estate development. Just consider the name of the development itself. The Enterprise Research Campus has been named to foster creativity and productivity. Conceptually, this new model is intended to allow people to live and work while they research and play. In essence, the area will serve as a hub of innovation, which will attract the best scholars and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds.

Despite these broad intentions, the space is not yet pegged for any particular academic program. Instead, it will attract people from various colleges within the school. This includes the Harvard Business School in addition to the schools of engineering, applied sciences and more. The type of work Harvard officials hope to engender at Allston are in line with other current research facilities already established at the school. For the best examples, Pagliuca Life Lab, i-Lab and the Launch Lab are excellent comparisons. These labs promote collaboration and innovation, and they are designed to take theoretical science and give it important applications in the real world.

In fact, Pagliuca Life Lab has been an important point of inspiration for officials during the development process of the Enterprise Research Campus. Pagliuca is one of Harvard’s most recent additions. It has only been in operation for a year. However, despite this short passage of time, it has already been an unprecedented success for Harvard and the surrounding community. At present, 17 ventures have gotten started at Pagliuca, and more developments are being considered all the time.

Other parallels can be found in the Launch Lab. This area has ample space for work with 130 stations for students and staff. Here, 34 companies are already established. The i-Lab has had similar success. At any given time, there are up to 100 ventures in residence at this elite lab. With this kind of demand, it is easy to see how an Allston branch can be utilized. Moreover, with these kinds of success stories, it will be possible for officials to move ahead with added confidence of ongoing success for the Enterprise Research Campus.

Certainly, these comparisons offer hope for an ambitious project. However, the plans released for the Enterprise Research Campus contain more practical details than anything else. Specifically, the location of the new campus in Allston will be just south of Western Avenue. Other Harvard facilities are in the area, which makes it a convenient location for many people. In particular, the Sanofi Genzyme properties are nearby to the east. Other future development is underway in the area. The John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is currently being developed to the west.

While these are the school’s ambitions in Allston, other real estate plans have been marked for the surrounding community. Boston’s city plan has called for more residential neighborhoods in the area. These residential zones are intended to be punctuated with an expanded commercial core. With this increased activity, the area should develop naturally, which will provide additional support for the new research center. In this manner, the development plans are complementary and function as part of the broader development scheme for Boston. The hope is that by making the area dynamic and multi-purpose that there will be heightened economic activity that helps the city, local businesses and residents.

The Long Development Process

The reason the land sat under-utilized for so long can be explained by its previous owner. The Allston property belonged to CSX, which is a railroad company. Despite its ownership, CSX no longer had need for the property. Because of this, CSX turned it into a rental property. For years, the property was rented by Romar Transportation Company. Under Romar, the Allston property was used as a base for trucking operations in the region.

Given its prime location, officials sought to buy the property from CSX. The deal took some time to finalize, but when it was completed, $88 million exchanged hands. In return for the large price tag, CSX took the responsibility of removing all structures from the property. By clearing the industrial infrastructure already in place, the area will be primed and ready for redevelopment. These optimistic plans are only stalled by environmental work. Due to the age of the site and how long some of the structures had been in place, environmental checks must all be conducted. This not only ensures governmental compliance, but it also ensures safety for future residents and occupants.

The next step for the development team is to file additional paperwork to start work. The Enterprise Research Campus will be completed on a large scale, which means that the project requires very specific paperwork in order to obtain approval. Interestingly, the fact that it is a mixed-usage facility may actually streamline the approval process to some degree. While the Master Plan does need approval from all relevant committees, individual buildings will not need to be checked off by Harvard’s governing board.

These recent developments were made public on December 7 of this year. However, this is not the first time that the Enterprise Research Center has been in the news. The idea first made headlines back in 2011 when the concept was initially made public. Since that time, the development process has been slow but steady. Significant progress was made in 2017 as increased chatter about the center continued to make headlines in the region. Most notably, Harvard officials announced that they had hired a head of real estate enterprise. This person was given the charge of overseeing the development process. Therefore, with this person in place, the development process began to pick up pace over the summer and throughout the fall. This is the series of events that has led to the announcement this month that a Master Plan had been filed in December.

Moving Forward with Confidence

Currently, the Master Plan is under review. This is a normal part of any filing and is not considered to be worrisome or problematic. It is important to remember that while the Master Plan is very exciting for all parties involved, it does not include any specific projects for approval. Instead, this filing is merely a next step to keep things moving along. Once the filing is approved, more planning can be undertaken to create a framework for ongoing development of the Enterprise Research Campus.

In order to maintain good relations with the surrounding community, the plans were also presented to the Allston community. The meeting to discuss the plans with community leaders was led by the Impact Advisory Group. This group is in place to consider the full range of implications for all aspects of the development project. By meeting with the community, officials hope to answer any questions about the project and assuage any concerns. Moreover, getting feedback from the local community will help guide the development process in order to ensure that the results are beneficial for everyone.

Although the project may be 15 years in the making, it is still fairly early in the actual development. Because of this, it can be expected that additional people and companies will be hired to assist in the development process. Because the project has a diverse range of needs, different developers are expected to be hired to oversee individual parts of the campus. This will allow for a more dynamic development process, and it will also increase the positive impact on the regional economy.

All of this news is extremely positive for the school, the Allston community and the region at large. By all estimations, the Enterprise Research Campus will be a spectacular addition to an established school community. By incorporating so many innovative elements into the campus, it can be seen that Harvard remains an important influence in the academic world.

Overall, the Enterprise Research Campus will be much more than a standard university extension. With the right development leadership, the Enterprise Research Campus can be a critical place for commerce and innovation in the entire region.

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