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Government seeks proposals for Kendall Square complex

Aerial shot of the 14-acre Volpe Center in Cambridge’s Kendall Square.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Aerial shot of the 14-acre Volpe Center in Cambridge’s Kendall Square.

One of Kendall Square’s most valuable real estate parcels, the Volpe transportation complex, is poised for a dramatic transformation under a federal plan to redevelop the 14-acre Cambridge property.

The General Services Administration, which manages the government’s real estate, is soliciting proposals from developers to help it reimagine the property. Keen interest is expected from technology and life sciences companies.

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Under the GSA’s plan, a developer would acquire the right to build out parts of the property in exchange for a commitment to construct a modern research facility for the Department of Transportation.

“This innovative approach will allow us to partner with the private sector to get the most out of this land and create economic development opportunities,” GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a statement.

A formal request for development proposals was posted Tuesday at www.fbo.gov.

One development partnership has already said it intends to submit a proposal.

“The redevelopment of Volpe Center presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” BioMed Realty Trust and Longfellow Real Estate Partners said in a statement, adding that they are crafting a plan “that meets the DOT’s needs and creates a vibrant, mixed-use development.”

The Volpe Center, at 55 Broadway, includes six buildings containing about 375,000 square feet of office and research space, two surface parking lots, and large lawns. The property is bounded by Binney Street to the north, Third Street to the east, and Broadway to the south.

For decades, Cambridge and federal officials have talked on and off about redeveloping the site, said Brian Murphy, assistant city manager for community development. The idea of giving land to a developer in exchange for construction of a research facility has been under discussion since 2011.

The private development portion of the project could include offices, apartments, and open space. That could prove especially attractive to biotechnology companies, including Biogen Idec Inc., which already has outgrown its newly expanded campus next to the Volpe site.

“It’s one of the most desirable pieces of land in all of Cambridge,” Murphy said.

“I have no doubt there will be many developers drooling over that site. Right now you have an open-air parking lot on one of the best locations in the city. In terms of the needs of the life sciences industry or the innovation industry, this is a game changer.”

The property is about one mile from Boston’s central business district. It is served by the Kendall Square MBTA Red Line station and several bus routes.

The Volpe Center employs about 1,000 people. But as Kendall Square grew into the East Coast’s innovation hub, the center became an underutilized spot in the heart of an otherwise bustling neighborhood.

“I applaud this first step toward the transformation of what is one of the last underdeveloped parcels in Kendall Square,” said US Representative Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat. “This approach will ensure that Volpe’s employees can continue conducting cutting-edge research as part of a unique public-private development.”

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