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MIT moves forward with rezoning petition for Kendall Square

Plan reflects Institute commitment to continued innovation, community building and options for academic growth

MIT has formally filed a rezoning petition for properties it owns near the Kendall Square MBTA station, reflecting a commitment to invigorate the street level experience and support the continued evolution of the area’s innovation cluster.

“Cambridge plays a central role in the nation’s innovation agenda. While our current position — and the Institute’s role in advancing revolutionary paths in technology, life sciences and entrepreneurship — is certainly a source of pride, there is enormous opportunity to think creatively about the future of Kendall Square,” said Steve Marsh, Managing Director of Real Estate for the MIT Investment Management Company. “We want to use our property to help make Kendall Square a vibrant center for Cambridge residents and workers and the Institute community, attract new groundbreaking companies to the region, and ensure flexibility for future academic endeavors.”

MIT first introduced the idea of a long-term redevelopment of properties it owns in Kendall Square nearly a year ago. Since then, the team has met with the school deans at MIT, presented to the Corporation, the Executive Committee, the Academic Council, the graduate and undergraduate leadership, residents of East Campus dormitory, and several department groups and individuals, and conducted several open brainstorming sessions with the Institute community to solicit ideas. In addition, MIT has presented its ideas to representatives of the Cambridge community, including elected officials, neighborhood groups, business owners and civic leaders. The current proposal reflects a wide range of input gathered over the course of nearly 100 meetings.

“Most of the feedback we have received has been enthusiastic and supportive — recognizing the need to improve the street level experience to reflect the innovation going on in the upper floors and to provide continued opportunities to attract new ventures to Kendall Square,” said Sarah Gallop, Co-Director of Government and Community Relations at MIT. “We also received valuable advice regarding the need to think broadly about place-making, to balance the mix of uses and to provide assurances that our ambitious goals can be accomplished.”

A multi-dimensional proposal

The rezoning proposal submitted to the City recommends a variety of changes to current zoning, allowing MIT to think creatively about how to develop new buildings on parcels that are currently empty or underutilized. The zoning expands the Institute’s ability to create new projects and includes the following:
  • Approximately 100,000 square feet of new retail, amenities, and publicly accessible ground-floor space
  • Approximately 880,000 square feet of additional commercial space (labs, offices, research facilities), ranging in height from 150 feet (nearest the Charles River) to 250 feet, with the option for the city to approve two signature buildings of up to 300 feet near Main Street
  • Approximately 800,000 square feet of academic space for MIT’s future research and teaching needs
  • Approximately 120,000 square feet of residential space
  • A public plaza
  • Improvements to the T station headhouse, developed in conjunction with the MBTA
Should the City agree to a rezoning of the property, MIT would then develop plans for specific buildings, with a full build-out of the commercial space likely to occur over the next 10 years. The design for each individual parcel would be subject to the City’s required public review and approval processes.

“While we have some broad ideas about what could be created in Kendall Square, the zoning would essentially provide a project envelope for us to work within,” Marsh said. “Our goal is to create sustainable projects and retain flexibility to respond to the changing needs of the market, the Institute, the economy and the Cambridge community.”

Getting creative about placemaking

“One of the themes we heard consistently — from within MIT and from Cambridge officials and community leaders — is that we had to think big about place-making and ensure that our proposals were realistic and achievable,” said Gallop. “To that end, we decided to bring in outside expertise to help us reflect on a broader vision for Kendall Square and create a proposal that could help the City achieve that vision.”

MIT has been working with David Manfredi of the Boston architectural firm Elkus|Manfredi Architects for over a year to help create the initial development concepts. In addition, the Institute commissioned David Chilinski of the Cambridge architectural firm Prellwitz Chilinksi Associates to explore how MIT and other property owners might fulfill the promise of Kendall Square through redevelopment and placemaking. His report to MIT, “Kendall Square in Process,” shows how ground floor retail and entertainment, urban plazas, wayfinding, and lighting and transit patterns can be integrated into the business and academic environment in a way that meets the needs of local residents, employees, and MIT students, faculty and staff.

Why Kendall Square

Kendall Square is currently home to key academic and research enterprises affiliated with MIT, as well as over 150 biotechnology, life sciences, 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 accelerate over the last 10 to 15 years, efforts to complement the success of those endeavors with a more dynamic social community at the street level have been more difficult to implement.

“Kendall Square marries the best thinking from MIT with world class companies, start-up entrepreneurs and non-profit research centers. As a result, Cambridge is home to a growing economy and a center of innovation that has worked to address some of the world’s most profound challenges, like curing disease, protecting the environment and pursuing sustainable energy solutions,” said Marsh. “We believe that our plan will create places for the collective Cambridge community to gather, socialize and collaborate, a key ingredient in helping Cambridge succeed now and in the future.”

The MIT proposal will introduce expanded retail and entertainment uses and provide continued opportunities for forward-thinking companies to grow and flourish. These efforts are designed to help attract new life-sciences, technology, energy and other entrepreneurial ventures to Kendall Square, create jobs and increase the tax base. At the same time, the proposal also retains flexibility for the Institute to meet evolving student and faculty academic needs.

An inclusive process going forward

Once the City Council receives the proposal, the petition will undergo a formal review that includes several public meetings with the City Council and Planning Board, and ample opportunities for the community to provide input and engage in the dialogue.

In addition, MIT expects to participate in the review of Central and Kendall Squares being undertaken by architecture and urban planning firm Goody Clancy. The study is designed to help Cambridge officials better understand the opportunities and challenges associated with continued development in these two areas, a process which MIT has fully embraced.

“Knowing that the City was undertaking this important review process, we wanted to be sure that all involved would have the opportunity to consider MIT’s ideas,” said Gallop. “We are looking forward to participating in a lively dialogue and hope that our plan can help the City achieve its own goals and meet the community needs that we have heard articulated during our many conversations over the past year.”

Anyone can learn more about the proposed zoning via the project website.

“We welcome all ideas and feedback; the zoning petition we have submitted is the start of our formal process where we work together to develop a framework for a range of future projects that will be developed over an extended period of time. We are eager to benefit from the collective ideas of MIT faculty, staff and students, and the Cambridge community at large,” said Marsh. Ideas can be submitted via e-mail or the web.

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