CAMBRIDGE — For a long time, Kendall Square has lacked a public gathering space, or much in the way of any type of cultural space.
Now a major developer in the bustling business district has a plan to build some.
Biomed Realty Thursday evening took the wraps off its plans for a 16-story office and lab building on Third Street in Kendall. It’s much like many of the other mid-rise office and lab towers that have gone up during the tech-and-life-science district’s long-running boom, if perhaps a bit more distinctively designed than most, with sweeping lines dreamed up by CBT Architects.
But there’s one key difference. Much of the lobby will serve as an indoor-outdoor gathering space — a 10,000-square-foot “living room” for Kendall Square, as the Biomed executive who’s leading the project calls it. And upstairs, on the second and third floors, will be a roughly 300-seat, two-story theater, designed to house performing arts groups that struggle to find a home in pricey Cambridge.
“Kendall is a bit of an arts and culture desert right now,” said Sal Zinno, vice president of development in Biomed’s Cambridge office, which overlooks the site. “We want to make a place for the community, for arts, for the public to gather.”
Those facilities are part of the deal that comes with the 1-acre site, a fenced-in field of rocks in the heart of one of the nation’s most expensive office markets. It was long owned by the nonprofit Constellation Charitable Foundation, whose founder Glenn KnicKrehm spent more than a decade planning a “village of art" on the site, with multiple theaters and grand architecture.
But those visions never materialized, and in 2018 KnicKrehm put the property up for sale. Biomed, a major Kendall developer that owns several neighboring buildings, paid $50.5 million to buy it, and has been planning the project since.
Now it will seek City Council and planning board approval for a 250-foot-tall building with about 550,000 square feet of office space, and the cultural and community space on the lower floors. It’ll stretch between Third Street, where Biomed plans to move a gas transfer station that has long complicated the site’s development, and Kendall Street, a plaza where Biomed operates several other civic spaces in and around other buildings it owns.
The building won’t have parking — though Biomed operates a pair of underground garages nearby, about 2,200 spaces in all. It also won’t be hooked up to natural gas, instead using electricity and a nearby steam plant for heat. Cambridge is considering banning natural gas connections in new buildings citywide, as Brookline recently did.
The developers behind other large projects in Kendall have contributed extra funding for transit improvements and job training, or set aside low-cost space for startups and local retailers. Those issues may come up as this project moves through approvals, Zinno said, but Biomed wants its community benefits package to offer the best arts and cultural space possible.
“These proposals sometimes get pulled in many different directions, and things get diluted” he said. “We’re trying to focus on the arts.”
Whether that is enough to impress the neighborhood remains to be seen.
Biomed held a string of community meetings to gather input while designing the project, but discussed its plans publicly for the first time Thursday. More meetings will be scheduled over the coming months, ahead of zoning and permitting decisions. The company hopes to start construction in early 2022, and open by the end of 2024.