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The Boston Globe

Business

Seaport District adding innovation center

$5.5m facility will complement site in Kendall Square

The angular single-story innovation center in the Seaport District will include 9,000 square feet of meeting space and a restaurant.

HACIN + ASSOCIATES INC.

The angular single-story innovation center in the Seaport District will include 9,000 square feet of meeting space and a restaurant.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston on Tuesday will unveil plans for a $5.5 million innovation center in the Seaport District, part of a broader effort to transform the area into a hotbed of entrepreneurship.

The facility will provide space for promising companies and executives to meet and exchange ideas, and to host business and social events. It will be operated by the Cambridge Innovation Center, an organization that supports start-up companies in Kendall Square.

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Menino will detail plans to build the innovation center at his annual address to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. Aides to the mayor outlined the project on Monday, describing it as a way to encourage the entrepreneurial culture that fuels business hubs like Kendall Square and Silicon Valley.

The building will be used to hold meetings and events, but will not provide office space for individual companies. It will be built by Boston Global Investors and Morgan Stanley, developers of Seaport Square, a 23-acre complex of residential towers, office buildings, retail stores, and public parks. It will be situated in the middle of the development site between Seaport Boulevard and Northern Avenue.

The architecture firm Hacin + Associates Inc., has designed an angular single-story building for the center that includes 9,000 square feet of meeting space and a restaurant that opens onto a patio across from Fan Pier Park. Construction is scheduled to start in late April, with the center to open by early 2013.

In some ways, the arrangement is a recognition that Boston and Cambridge - often seen as competitors for the region’s top companies - can benefit from each other’s growth and success. Both have thriving business communities whose companies will use the new center to collaborate on research and new business ventures.

“When Mayor Menino reached out to us, we thought, ‘Wow, this is going to make the region better,’ ’’ said Tim Rowe, chief executive of the Cambridge Innovation Center. “This is something that could be transformative.’’

Aides to the mayor and others said the facility will complement the Cambridge Innovation Center, which provides office space for 450 start-up companies in a building in Kendall Square.

Rowe said the Boston center will allow companies to hold events and create a communal space to spur collaboration in a range of industries. Room in the facility will be provided to start-up companies for free, although larger, more established businesses may be required to pay to use it. The goal is for the center to be self-supporting, with revenue from its restaurant to provide funding for operating costs.

The facility is part of an economic development strategy to turn the waterfront into what Menino has branded Boston’s Innovation District.

His strategy revolves around three goals: bringing new companies and jobs to the area; creating more affordable residences for employees; and building civic spaces to fuel partnerships between budding businesses and entrepreneurs.

The establishment of the innovation center involves an unusual partnership between public and private interests. The Boston Redevelopment Authority will lease the building from its developers and then sublease it to the Cambridge Innovation Center, whose employees will plan events and manage daily operations.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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