In Announcing Land Purchase, Harvard Reaffirms Commitment to Allston
The University this past week informed city, state, and neighborhood leaders that it has begun exercising options to acquire substantial industrial and commercial properties in the Allston area of Boston in order to provide flexibility as the University moves into the 21st century.
There are no present plans to put the properties to University use in the near future, said Vice President for Administration Sally Zeckhauser. "But it's essential, with an educational institution, to ensure that there are enough physical resources to sustain future academic programs," Zeckhauser said. "This is an investment in the future of both Harvard and Allston."
"Harvard has historically planned far in advance for space needs that may arise well into the future," said Kathy A. Spiegelman, associate vice president for Planning and Real Estate.
The University informed the Boston Redevelopment Authority about the acquisitions prior to the filing of a five-year update of a master plan for Harvard-owned land in Allston, which includes the Business School campus and athletic facilities. Though the new parcels of land do not come under the master plan, the information was provided to give context and to involve the city and the community in the planning process from the beginning.
The 14 properties are on approximately 52 acres of land, mostly industrial and commercial, and include the Western Avenue Shopping Center, a vacant Sears building, and the site of a former concrete plant. The properties contain 920,000 square feet of building space, mostly devoted to a variety of industrialized and business uses, plus one single-family and one two-family house. Harvard pays full taxes on the properties, which total $1.5 million annually.
The parcels were purchased on behalf of Harvard beginning in 1988 by the Beal Companies of Boston. "Sometimes an outside party is asked to make such purchases in order to avoid having to pay significant premiums above the fair market value," Zeckhauser said. "Past local examples include the Boston Public Library, International Place, and New England Life."
Beal will continue to handle the day-to-day management, leasing, and redevelopment of the properties, consistent with the University's intention that the properties support the long-term stability and economic well-being of the neighboring community.
One parcel, the Western Avenue Shopping Center, has already been revitalized. The Star Market in that shopping center has not only been encouraged to stay, but has also expanded and improved its facilities. "The market is expected to serve as an anchor for further enhancement of retail services, as already evidenced by other property improvements and new business development," Spiegelman said.
Spiegelman also said that the acquisitions provide an opportunity to encourage the development of the Allston Landing area, and to promote the potential of Western Avenue to become an attractive urban boulevard. The Allston neighborhood and Harvard share strong desires for a more pedestrian-friendly environment, aesthetic improvements, and land usage that strengthens the fabric of residential neighborhoods, she said.
"We believe that by planning for Harvard's future in Allston," Spiegelman continued, "we can be part of Allston's full participation in the positive economic development of Boston. We are committed to working with the Boston Redevelopment Authority and our Allston neighbors toward the realization of that goal."
Some city officials and residents of the Allston neighborhood expressed strong concern about the extent of the purchases, saying they want to be sure that they are part of the planning process.
Both Zeckhauser and Spiegelman reaffirmed that the University is committed to working with the Allston community and the city of Boston as part of a collaborative process to encourage property uses that will enhance employment, and attract activities that are compatible both with the nearby campus and with the larger community and its residents.
"Harvard plans to continue to lease the properties in the near term, aiming to encourage uses compatible with the interests of adjacent residential areas and conducive to the area's economic vitality," Zeckhauser said.
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College