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In mid March, Harvard president Drew Faust sent a letter to Allston residents reporting that all but one of Harvard’s marketable retail properties in the community had been rented. She wrote also that an Allston “work team has been gathering information from a range of sources both inside and outside the University to help determine the best route to resumed development for the Western Avenue site, which will undoubtedly be tied to one or more science-based uses, and options for development and co-development around that anchor project.”

Because the University owns an enormous amount of land in Allston, co-development would likely take the form of ground leases to commercial developers on parcels farthest from the planned campus, perhaps near the Massachusetts Turnpike. Conceivably, Harvard could use payments on the leased land to fund a series of bonds issued to finance its share of whatever is built—at the halted University laboratory site or elsewhere nearby. There is strong demand worldwide for new biotechnology development, interest rates are at historic lows, and Allston—because of its proximity to Harvard, MIT, and Boston’s teaching hospitals—is a desirable location. 

What exactly might Harvard want to build? One scenario could involve the unmet space needs of the Harvard School of Public Health. Other institutions in the Longwood Medical Area, including Northeastern University, the Harvard teaching hospitals, Harvard Medical School, and the Wentworth Institute of Technology, all need more room there—representing opportunities should the public-health school relocate. The University has been working with development firms Leggat McCall, historically on the leasing side of the business, and McCall & Almy, focused on consulting and planning, to aid the work team, whose report on Harvard’s development strategy is due to Faust in mid summer.