Business & Tech

MIT closes $750m deal to redevelop Volpe Center in Kendall Square

Cambridge--06/26/15 The Volpe Transportation Center, and it's property. Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki(business) kendallsquare100

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2015

MIT will update the government’s transportation research center in Kendall Square and then develop the rest of the property.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has closed on its purchase of the massive Volpe Center site in Kendall Square and will now push forward with its plans to turn the federal research park into a vibrant new hub for the booming neighborhood.

MIT on Wednesday signed a $750 million deal with the General Services Administration to buy the 14-acre site and build a new federal transportation research facility there. It will then have the rights to build on the rest of the site, set in the heart of one of the East Coast’s hottest real estate markets.

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Redeveloping the tract gives the university a major role in the many changes coming to Kendall Square.

“What we have in mind is a big vision,” said MIT executive vice president Israel Ruiz. “We want to do more in Kendall Square. This enables us to do it at a level of scale.”

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So far, MIT has few specific uses in mind, but zoning changes proposed for the property contemplate a mix of housing, office, lab, and retail space, and parks. The university, which plans a community meeting on the project next month, said it will work closely with Cambridge officials and residents during the rezoning.

Any actual development is likely to be years away; MIT must build a new Volpe Center for the government before it gains access to the rest of the site.

The property, among the biggest prizes in Boston’s bustling real estate market, drew bids from at least a half-dozen developers. In November, the GSA announced it had chosen MIT, and the deal was widely expected to close before the end of the Obama administration.

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It was not clear how much others bid for the site. MIT officials said their $750 million purchase price will include the cost of building a new Volpe Center.

In a letter to students and staff, MIT stressed that its investments would fund the purchase — not the operating budget. And since the property would be chiefly commercial, not academic, space, the 14 acres would go on Cambridge’s property tax rolls.

But mostly the university said it sees a big opportunity to make Kendall Square more vibrant, with a broader mix of uses than the bustling business district has today. That’s what MIT is pushing in buildings it has planned along Main Street, near the Volpe Center.

“This is the critical connector in Kendall Square at this point in time. It’s 14 acres right in the middle,” said Steve Marsh, managing director at MIT Investment Management Co., which is leading the project. “This one is an obvious opportunity to really improve the area and think about what Kendall Square is going to be like in 10 or 20 years.”

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.
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