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Cambridge Innovation Center to open in Boston

After serving as a magnet in Kendall Square for hundreds of tech upstarts and Web giants such as Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., the Cambridge Innovation Center is opening a major outpost in Boston’s Financial District with enough space for about 300 startups.

The center, which gives young companies access to amenities such as copiers, kitchens, and conference rooms, has signed a lease to take over five floors at 50 Milk St., a part of town that has traditionally hosted lawyers, bankers, and investment managers, but has recently seen an influx of tech newcomers such as PayPal and Isobar , a digital advertising company.

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That trend will likely accelerate once the CIC Boston opens in April. It will occupy about 70,000 square feet and accommodate about 1,200 people, CIC president Brian Dacey said Thursday. Its draw: The center will give boot-strapping firms less expensive space and more flexibility than traditional office leases.

The CIC is also looking for tenants to open a first-floor retail space anda coffee shop to keep its cadre of engineers and entrepreneurs well caffeinated, Dacey said.

Given its popularity in Kendall Square, and reputation for being a launching pad for many local startups, its search for new digs across the Charles River has been watched closely by the local tech set.

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Dacey said the cemter had looked throughout Boston for a new space, including in the South Boston Innovation District, but was drawn to Milk Street because of the large amount of space that it could take up and its proximity to the Red Line.

“We’re really interested in what’s becoming this corridor of innovation that’s running from Cambridge to Boston along the Red Line,” said Dacey. “Increasingly, companies have moved along this corridor.”

The price tag and the amount of space available was also a big draw, Dacey said. Areas such as the Innovation District are filling up fast. And, as a result, rents are climbing quickly and space is increasingly scarce.

“We needed to be able to put together a critical mass,” Dacey said. “We can’t operate in small little pieces of space. We need big chunks.”

Dacey would not provide financial details of the lease, other than to say that CIC has options to eventually expand in the Milk Street building.

Even though the space is expansive, it’s a fraction of the size of the CIC’s Cambridge hub, located at 1 Broadway and 101 Main St. in the heart of Kendall Square.

Those spaces extend over 207,000 square feet and include more than 600 companies that range from one-person startups to freelancers seeking company to firms with more than 50 people. There is a waiting list to get in.

In the Cambridge spaces, and likely at its new Boston arm, the cost of an office varies. In general, it ranges from about $350 for a desk to $1,200 a month per person for some of the bigger rooms. And there are no long-term leases. Companies can opt out with a 30-day notice.

The value for young companies isn’t only lower rents, said Dacey. It is also the ability to avoid many of the added costs associated with setting up an individual office. The CIC offers fully stocked kitchens, high-tech conference rooms, Internet, and decent office chairs. There is even a cafe, the popular Venture Cafe, with microbrewed beer on tap.

It’s a model that has proven successful. Opened in 1999, the center helped turn once sleepy Kendall Square into a hotbed of tech startup activity that is now teeming with venture capitalists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. West Coast giants such as Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Facebook, to name a few, have also expanded there to be part of this growing tech ecosystem.

In recent years, many other so-called co-working spaces such as WeWork and Workbar have opened in the Boston area. The CIC has named the founder of one of them to run its new outpost.

Stas Gayshan, chief executive of Space with a Soul in Fort Point, will head operations of the CIC Boston. The 40 startups and nonprofits that operate out of Space with a Soul — another haven for emerging companies — will have the option to relocate to the new CIC.

Boston is hopeful that the entreprenurial influx that will come with the CIC opening in the city will produce similar results that came with the original one in Kendall.

 Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston praised the expansion, saying that it will add jobs and further bolster the city’s growing innovation economy. “CIC Boston is an exciting new addition to Downtown Crossing and the burgeoning innovation and startup community growing in that district,” the mayor said in a statement.

Indeed, in just the past year, members of the area’s tech community have seen a noticeable difference in the culture and character of downtown Boston with the arrival of more tech companies.

“It does feel like they are popping up everywhere,” said David Chang, chief operating officer of the PayPal Media Network, which opened its Financial District office last year. “The presence of technology in this area is definitely not a foreign thing any more.”

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com and at betaboston.com.
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