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MIT explores plans for enlivening Kendall Square

Discussions begin within MIT and Cambridge communities.

MIT has initiated preliminary conversations within the Institute community, as well as with Cambridge officials and representatives of Kendall Square and the surrounding neighborhoods, to discuss early concepts for invigorating the Kendall Square area.

While no specific project has yet been proposed, MIT is considering ideas for its properties near the MBTA station that would create a more vibrant environment consistent with Kendall Square’s position as an innovation cluster. The project is being led by the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo), a division of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that manages the investment of the Institute’s endowment and all investment real estate.

Kendall Square is currently home to several academic and research buildings affiliated with MIT, as well as over 150 biotechnology and information technology firms, including Microsoft and Google, the Cambridge Innovation Center, and a growing number of clean-energy and technology startup companies. While the concentration of corporate, research and academic activities in Kendall Square began to take shape over the last 10 to 15 years, efforts to complement the success of those endeavors with a more dynamic social community have been less successful to date.

“Kendall Square is home to a kind of creative intensity that you don’t encounter many other places on Earth: It has an entrepreneurial culture and an incredibly inspiring focus on society’s important problems,” MIT President Susan Hockfield said in an address to the Kendall Square Association in February. “If we want Kendall Square to grow and thrive over the long term, we need to make sure that the most creative entrepreneurs and most talented inventors and scientists find Kendall Square so magnetic, so appealing that they can’t think seriously about ‘other options.’”

MIT has been a leading participant in efforts by the Kendall Square Association (KSA), which represents more than 100 local organizations, to explore ways to maximize the potential of the Square. MIT and the KSA have the shared goal of creating retail, amenities, cultural opportunities, and public spaces that foster collaboration and dynamic synergies — all in the heart of a world-class business and academic hub that is fueling the future of innovation.

“Past initiatives to improve the streetscape and add amenities to Kendall Square have been disparate and fairly limited in scope,” said Steve Marsh, managing director for real estate for MITIMCo. “These piecemeal efforts haven’t had the scale and concentration of retail activity necessary to meet the needs of the entrepreneurs, established companies, academicians, students, neighbors and business leaders who have come to value and rely on Kendall Square’s creative energy.”

MITIMCo is currently considering a variety of approaches for a transit-oriented, mixed-use redevelopment of parcels it owns in Kendall Square, with a focus on supporting existing businesses and maximizing benefits for the MIT community and nearby neighborhoods. Over the next several months, it will develop a more formal proposal for potential uses, including ground-floor retail, venues for the public to gather, corporate, academic, and research space and housing.

As part of this process, MITIMCo will continue communicating within the Institute community and with tenants in Kendall Square, neighbors, as well as business leaders and city officials, to provide a timeline of activities and next steps.

“Our objective is to fuel innovation in Cambridge by creating increased vitality in Kendall Square through the animation of the streetscape. We want to introduce expanded retail and entertainment uses and provide continued opportunities for forward-thinking companies to grow and flourish. We also hope these efforts will help attract new life-sciences, technology, energy and other entrepreneurial ventures to Kendall Square, and that a revitalized Kendall Square will create jobs and increase the tax base. Naturally, as we explore possibilities for redevelopment we will need to ensure that MIT’s academic needs are met going forward,” Marsh said.

“Toward those goals,” he continued, “we will be eager to receive input from both the Cambridge and MIT communities about what people would be most excited to see in a revitalized Kendall Square, and particularly, creative ideas for the retail and public gathering spaces.”

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