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Letter to the Community on Allston (2009)

Dear Neighbors, Colleagues, and Friends,

I am writing today to share with you, the members of our extended community, Harvard’s planned path forward for Allston.

Last February, I first wrote to inform you about the University’s pace of planned campus development. In that letter I stated that I was directing our financial and planning teams to assess options with regard to our overall capital planning and development program, and in particular the Allston Science Complex. As I said in that letter, our first phase of construction would continue under any scenario in order to complete the foundation and bring the structure to ground level. As the calendar year comes to a close, and this phase of construction approaches completion, I would like to update you on our review and our next steps.

The below-grade structure of the Allston Science Complex has been constructed to ground level, encompassing 8,000 tons of structural steel and several spaces for laboratory support and power generation, and the street-level concrete deck is nearing completion.

As has been anticipated, the University will pause construction upon completion of the current phase, in the early spring of 2010. Earlier this week, the Harvard Corporation reviewed the range-of-use options developed over the past 10 months for the complex, the cost projections for program delivery, and the near-term alternatives for accommodating important scientific programs elsewhere in both Boston and Cambridge. We concluded that the most prudent course is to delay the next phase of construction while continuing a rigorous analysis of strategies for resumed activity, including co-development.

This delay will in no way slow Harvard’s significant momentum in the life sciences. Harvard continues to make strategic investments in research facilities in both Boston and Cambridge, allowing us to continue to pursue cutting-edge research, recruit life sciences faculty, and sharpen our region’s competitive edge in attracting federal funds, all of which benefit Greater Boston’s economy and advance human health.

I know this announcement has implications for our neighbors, who have so generously participated over the past years in extensive planning for a more aggressive development posture. So I also want to address the University’s broader opportunities in Allston, as well as our obligations as neighbors and community members. The altered financial landscape of the University, and of the wider world, necessitates a shift away from rapid development in Allston, and thus requires a simultaneous commitment to a program of active stewardship of Harvard properties. We take our relationships with our host communities very seriously, and while I am proud of the University’s ongoing efforts aimed at leasing vacant properties and improving community vitality in Allston, we must do more.

In the context of our new realities, we envision a path forward for Harvard’s presence in Allston in three phases: property stewardship and community engagement; campus planning and greening; and campus development.

Phase one will focus on the immediate need for property improvements, aggressive and effective leasing of vacant or partially vacant Harvard properties, and community engagement. As part of this commitment, Harvard will work with the Allston community to improve community vitality, with a particular focus on high-impact locations, and regularly report progress on leasing. The planned changes in our approach include:

• increasing the number of properties in our leasable portfolio by returning buildings reserved for construction support (a total of 100,000 square feet);
• investing in upgrades and improvements to make properties more attractive to prospective tenants;
• extending short-term-only lease options on properties to longer lease term options, in some cases as long as 10 years; and
• working with brokers to reach more potential tenants for Allston properties.

These efforts should result in a number of new tenancies in Allston, without compromising our ability to locate alternative staging sites when construction resumes. In the last 10 months, we have made significant progress in these efforts by signing six new leases, including research and technology tenants, and a new lease with Mahoney’s Garden Center on Western Avenue that will significantly expand its outdoor market area in 2010.

Harvard has, despite financial constraints, continued to develop and support programs in Allston aimed at educational achievement, job training, and public-realm improvements such as landscaping and bicycle lanes. My visits over the past year to the Harvard Allston Education Portal reinforce the power of connecting our faculty, staff, and students to the educational aspirations of Boston schoolchildren and their families; the Ed Portal is just one of many education partnerships between Harvard and Allston schools. These programs align closely with Harvard’s mission of education, research, and public service and are more important in this challenging economy than ever. We will continue these efforts, guided by the comprehensive community needs survey conducted in Allston-Brighton in 2008.

Phase two will involve greening, including landscaping and tree planting, as well as the completion of Library Park, a public park in Allston designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, and will also involve planning based on the land use concepts that have emerged from Harvard’s work with the City of Boston, the community, and planning consultants. While the planning effort will be guided in large part by the recommendations that flow from the work team described below, the University will meet its obligations to file an updated Institutional Master Plan before its current plan expires in 2012.

Phase three, campus development, will be pursued as resources allow, and only after a targeted, evaluative process that will begin next month, and will be guided by a work team with expertise in design, urban planning, business strategy, real estate development, and public policy. It will be chaired by Peter Tufano, Sylvan C. Coleman Professor of Financial Management and senior associate dean for planning and University affairs at Harvard Business School, Bill Purcell, director of the Institute of Politics and the former mayor of Nashville, Tenn., and Alex Krieger, professor in practice of urban planning and design and chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Graduate School of Design (GSD). The team, reporting to Executive Vice President Katherine Lapp, will recommend strategies for achieving our shared vision of a cohesive scientific, academic, and learning campus environment situated in a sustainable and livable community in Allston. The team will, through the executive vice president, coordinate closely with me, the provost, and the deans to understand the priorities of the University and its Schools over the next decade and will recommend ways in which the University’s growth needs can best be addressed, structurally as well as financially. The result will be a program that fully integrates a vision for Allston as a community with overarching University goals and priorities for the next decade.

I thank you and your neighbors for your patience, active participation, and counsel over the past several years as we have developed a mutual understanding of the future we share together in this unique community. I am committed to furthering a partnership that can build on successes we have already enjoyed, and enhancing improvements that Harvard can implement that will have a positive and lasting impact for all of us.


– Drew Gilpin Faust

Q&A with Katherine Lapp on Harvard’s Allston plan »