Harvard's growth plan

University says it will start building Allston campus in 2013, after getting input from neighbors and community leaders

By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / September 21, 2011

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Harvard University, whose development stops and starts have frustrated its North Allston neighbors for years, said it wants to begin construction in 2013 of a Harvard-Square-like retail and housing complex to anchor its sweeping transformation of the neighborhood.

In a letter to residents yesterday, Harvard’s leaders said they will hold design charettes next month to seek input from neighbors and design professionals for the stores and rental housing that would be built at Barry’s Corner, at the intersection of Western Avenue and North Harvard Street.

The housing is intended for graduate students, faculty, and university visitors, and so far Harvard has been unclear how much - if any - of the housing would be available for private market rentals. The design meetings will be led by Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston and are expected to result in a request for proposals to private developers by March.

The university’s letter outlined a two-phase development plan that will eventually result in a cluster of new buildings along Western Avenue between Barry’s Corner and the Charles River. Under its new proposal, some of those will be built by the university for academic uses, while others will be developed privately and will include commercial offices, housing, stores, and restaurants.

The first phase of work will also involve planning new uses for the site of the Charlesview housing complex, which is moving to another location nearby, as well as determining what academic programs will occupy a new health and life sciences center on Western Avenue.

The university said it will spend the next year devising the mix of laboratories and classrooms that will be housed in the building, which was initially planned to house a Stem Cell Institute and the School of Public Health before Harvard stopped construction due to the economic downturn in 2009.

The new layout and contents of the building will be presented to the Boston Redevelopment Authority by June 2012, Harvard said yesterday.

The schedule set by the university was greeted cautiously by city officials and neighbors who want to see Harvard make good on its promise to revitalize its massive parking lots and tracts of gritty industrial and commercial properties.

“This is a positive step, but results will tell the full story,’’ said Boston City Councilor Mark Ciommo, who represents Allston. “It will be telling to see how this first phase progresses.’’

The second phase will focus on what the university is calling Allston Landing North, a 36-acre site Harvard describes as an “enterprise research campus’’ that will include as many as 12 commercial and academic buildings, similar to the cluster in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. The campus is also planned to include a hotel and conference center.

“The University leadership sees great potential in an enterprise research campus that will serve as a gateway to a collaborative community for business, investment capital, and research and science development,’’ Harvard said in its letter, signed by executive vice president Katherine N. Lapp.

The release of the plan follows Boston’s approval last week of Harvard Business School’s plans to build Tata Hall, an arc-shaped glass-and-stone building on the banks of the Charles River. BRA officials said they were pleased to see Harvard is also beginning work on the housing and retail complex at Barry’s Corner.

“It will provide a critical link between the traditional residential neighborhood and the new campus,’’ BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree said of the project.

Harvard officials did not disclose any details about the cost, size, or scope of the project at Barry’s Corner, apparently sensitive that discussing any such components would trump the public process and upset neighbors.

Allston resident Harry Mattison said he is concerned the development will house too many graduate students and not enough families, young professionals, and older residents.

“Is this going to be about making a neighborhood for all walks of life, or is it 150 beds for men and women in their early 20s who have a better idea of what’s fun to do at 2 in the morning,’’ Mattison said. “We want a real sense of place where there’s activity so people will say on a Sunday, ‘Let’s go down to Barry’s Corner and walk around for awhile.’ ’’

Harvard has said only that the complex will include rental housing for “Harvard graduate students, visiting scholars, faculty members, and others’’ and that it will be combined with “retail facilities and amenities’’ for the neighborhood.

The university said it intends to submit a new master plan for its Allston development by December 2012, kicking off a series of additional conversations with the BRA and neighbors.

Casey Ross can be reached at

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