Harvard Nears Selection of Allston Development Partner
The Harvard Allston Land Company (HALC), charged with developing the University’s “enterprise research campus” (ERC) commercial area in Allston, has narrowed the field of candidates for development of that 14-acre parcel off Western Avenue to three. The finalists include, in alphabetical order, Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. in partnership with National Development; Breakthrough Properties, owned by Tishman Speyer and Bellco Capital; and HYM Investment Group. The three are vying for the opportunity to build 400,000 square feet of office and lab space, 250,000 square feet of residential space, and a 250,000-square-foot hotel and conference center.
“To get from 18 to 9 to 3,” explained HALC CEO Thomas Glynn in an interview, “everybody was asked to meet basic real-estate criteria,” including expertise in financing and permitting, for example. “Then we said that we were particularly interested in a few areas” such as the public realm, affordable housing, space for start-ups, sustainability, and diversity at a high level within the vendor team (including investors and architects, for example, not just carpenters)—“a set of criteria beyond the traditional real-estate criteria. Each of these three [finalists] distinguished themselves” in the basic areas, said Glynn, “and then they were good at the things we particularly cared about, that were more mission-related.”
In the area of affordable housing, for example, each of the three finalists was open to building more than what the city of Boston currently requires, which is a minimum of 13 percent of the residential units, Glynn said. He added that Harvard envisions the housing as “affordable workforce,” meaning designed to attract workers employed locally, junior faculty and graduate students, and those willing to pay market price. (The city is reviewing its expectations in the related area of housing and jobs linkages, and could increase affordable-housing requirements in the future.) Glynn emphasized that the residential component of the ERC is not just for Harvard. At the suggestion of University president Lawrence S. Bacow, Glynn has met with officials at both MIT and Boston University, and reports that both are interested in housing their affiliates at the site.
Each development partner candidate brings a different kind of expertise to the Enterprise Research Campus (ERC) project. Glynn summarized the finalists as follows:
- Breakthrough Properties, a new company formed by international real-estate firm Tishman Speyer, and Los Angeles-based Bellco Capital, a major developer of life sciences laboratories founded by two UCLA physicians with strong connections to the Boston medical community (one trained at Brigham and Womens’s Hospital, and the other at Mass Eye and Ear). Tishman Speyer’s Boston office has done “high-quality work” in the Seaport, says Glynn, and does “a very good job working with community and working with the city agencies.”
- Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc., based in Los Angeles is among the largest lab/office developers in the United States. The firm has developed numerous projects in Kendall Square, and their New England-based partner, National, which is headquartered in Newton, is known for its successful projects in the Boston area. Together, the two companies present “a track record of real-estate projects (National), and a track record of doing major lab/office buildings (Alexandria).”
- HYM is an investment company run by Tom O’Brien, a former head of the BRA (Boston Redevelopment Authority, now known as the Boston Planning and Development Agency, or BPDA). HYM is currently redeveloping the Government Center garage into an office building and recently purchased Suffolk Downs, which was approved by the Boston Civic Design Commission for a huge multiuse development northeast of downtown Boston. Currently seeking approvals for that project with the BPDA, HYM has demonstrated success in the Boston market, and has national partners.
Among these finalists, Breakthrough is an international company, Alexandria and National Development a combined national and local company, and HYM mainly a local company with some national partners. Glynn characterized this as “a good mix to present to the board.” Although each firm approached the project differently, “they all recognized that we were trying to create a destination and a place that people would want to go, and not a suburban office park on Western Avenue.”
The public spaces within the ERC, for example, will function as a greenway within the larger Harvard Allston campus, Glynn said. “Harvard is committed to open space…running from the [Honan-Allston branch] library to as close to the river as we can get. That was important for the community. The first two legs of that are the existing parks by the library, then the next leg is the open space behind the SEAS building”—the new home for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, now nearing completion. Harvard has also asked each of its potential ERC development partners to propose what Glynn called “active open space, more like a playground or something that gets people to be active. Not just a walk but something that engages people, reinforcing the idea that this is a destination, like the Rose Kennedy Greenway, where you have the different segments,” each with its own character, from landscaped plantings to parks for sitting, with reflection pools and sculptures. The aim in Allston is to create a place that will be more than “just a place where you can take a walk.”
Glynn is optimistic about filling the commercial space, noting that Jodi Goldstein, Evans executive director of the Harvard Innovation Lab, routinely turns down promising projects because of space limitations. “I don’t think that will be a difficult thing to pull off,” he said. “This is a good opportunity because there’s a lot already in the pipeline.”
Once a development partner has been chosen, there will still be important details to negotiate, including the development agreement itself, which might be completed by March, and the ground lease—Harvard is targeting 95 years as the term of the lease for the underlying land—which Glynn said he hopes can be completed by July.
Harvard Business School dean Nitin Nohria, who chairs the HALC board, said that as its members make their selection, they are particularly focused on what happens at the streetscape level. “We don’t want Western Avenue to become like a street in New York City,” he emphasized in an interview. “Over time, we want this to feel like a neighborhood.” Nohria said the board hopes to select the ERC development partner before the new year.