Revised plan mixes academia, industry

By Liz Kowalczyk and Megan Woolhouse
Globe Staff / June 16, 2011

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Harvard University’s new vision for a science campus in Allston is far different from the original idea it pursued over the past decade.

The revamped proposal still includes a health and life science center on Western Avenue with up to 700,000 square feet of space for laboratories and academic researchers drawn from other Harvard locations in Cambridge and Boston’s Longwood Medical Area.

But now, the largest science footprint would be a 36-acre, privately-developed “enterprise research campus’’ with as many as 12 buildings for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and venture capital companies that the university hopes to attract to create a thriv ing mix of academia and industry similar to Cambridge’s Kendall Square.

The addition of a significant commercial component in Allston Landing North, land occupied for years by CSX railroad, represents a shift in thinking for Harvard — as well as a realization that financing will be far easier with industry partners.

“There was an aversion to mixing commerce and academia,’’ said Peter Tufano, a professor at Harvard Business School who helped develop the recommendations. Now university officials hope the mix will create “a gateway, a nexus’’ that could rival — or surpass — the success of the life science industry at Kendall Square near MIT, he said.

“It’s quite a good thing, as opposed to an objectionable thing, to partner with business,’’ Tufano said. “It complements what we want to do and embodies new ideas.’’

Harvard officials said they were confident the enterprise campus would be attractive to businesses, despite competition from Kendall Square. “I’ve been meeting with developers,’’ said Katherine N. Lapp, executive vice president. “To a person, people said this is a very unique site.’’

Harvard sought advice from land specialists and development consultants to understand current market conditions and alternative development methods.

McCall & Almy was one of the local real estate firms that consulted with Harvard. “The Harvard Allston holdings represent one of the most promising real estate development opportunities in the country,’’ Bill McCall, firm president and principal, said in a press release to be issued by Harvard today.

The task force of Harvard deans, faculty, and alumni that developed the proposal is to present its recommendations to university president Drew Faust and Harvard’s governing board today, as well as to Allston residents and businesses.

University officials said they did not want to discuss the cost or financing of the project because any projections are preliminary, though they said a substantial portion of money for the health and life science center will likely come from Harvard’s upcoming fund-raising campaign.

Officials said they are still working out which Harvard scientists and departments would relocate to the Allston center, which could be up to one-third larger than Harvard Medical School’s New Research Building on the Longwood campus, which was the university’s largest research and education building when it opened in 2003.

Portions of the Harvard School of Public Health, located in Longwood, are a possibility, as well as Harvard’s emerging global health initiatives, stem cell researchers, and imaging science.

In its initial plan for development in Allston, Harvard envisioned its Stem Cell Institute and School of Public Health moving to the new campus. After the plan was put on hold due to the recession in 2009 — with the science center’s foundation already built — Harvard found many of its stem cell researchers renovated space in Cambridge, which they plan to move into in August. It’s unclear how that will affect stem cell science in Allston.

“Who will be in this new space is still being decided,’’ said Dr. David Scadden, co-director of the institute.

Harvard officials said the underground 5-acre foundation of the health and life science center, previously envisioned in part for parking, would be perfect for imaging, which does not require outside light and would benefit from the extra-solid construction that resists vibrations.

Harvard’s provost, Steven Hyman, said the university is exploring using the space for research that involves imaging single cells, as well as collaborating with Harvard teaching hospitals that have run out of space and want to “develop the next generation of tools’’ to find and treat disease.

For the enterprise research campus, Harvard said it would work with private developers to create a cluster of buildings that could be leased by companies that spin off from its research facility or businesses that want to be near other life science companies. The site is also near a Genzyme drug manufacturing facility, which sits on Harvard-owned land that it leases.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said yesterday that he does not think the Harvard plan will interfere with his efforts to create an Innovation District to attract life science and biotechnology firms to the area that stretches from Fort Point Channel to the Boston Marine Industrial Park, and from the Seaport area to the Convention and Exhibition Center. Developers envision multiple office buildings, residences, stores and hotel rooms in the district as well as an “innovation center’’ designed to foster collaboration among companies located there.

“More is more, simple as that,’’ Menino said. “There’s opportunity for growth in the enterprise campus and the Innovation District.’’

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at; Megan Woolhouse at