The site of a long-empty warehouse along the Massachusetts Turnpike could soon be a new “center of gravity” for a part of Allston-Brighton that’s exploding with new development.
Berkeley Investments on Friday filed detailed plans with the city for a three-building campus of life science office space, housing, and parks on the site of an enormous warehouse that has sat empty on Lincoln Street since it was built two decades ago.
Berkeley says the project — encompassing just over 800,000 square feet — would transform a long-forlorn pocket of the neighborhood, and serve as a connection between the Boston Landing complex across the Pike and the rapidly developing Western Avenue corridor to the north.
“This project can really be a center of gravity connecting all of Allston’s Harvard-driven development and everything going on around Boston Landing and then Longwood Medical Area,” said Berkeley president Young Park.
The warehousehas mostly been vacant since it was built as the Boston Tech Center, during the late 1990′s tech bubble. It was intended for a telecom company that went bust before it was finished. Harvard University purchased the building as part of its expansion into Allston in 2006, but has done little there since a land swap with the Boston Skating Club fell through. The university sought partners to redevelop it, and last year announced a long-term lease with Berkeley, a veteran Boston developer whose projects include much of Channel Center in Fort Point, the Waltham Watch Factory, and a new mixed-use development in Malden Center.
On Lincoln Street, Park says, it sees a big opportunity for life science companies looking to locate relatively near to both Harvard’s Allston campus and Longwood Medical Area. Several life science companies have already moved to Boston Landing, and nearby parts of Watertown and the Fenway, seeking more space and lower rents than they can find in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. And although the COVID-19 pandemic has dampened apartment rents and crunched demand for urban office space, the market for life science real estate remains strong.
“We really feel Allston will gradually take on a much bigger role in the region’s life science industry,” Park said.
In all, Berkeley’s project would include 548,000 square feet of lab or office space in two buildings, a third building with 314 residential units, and 20,000 square feet of ground-level retail. About two acres of the 5.2-acre site will be open space, and Berkeley is hoping to create an artsy vibe with “maker” space and 10 live/work units geared toward artists. The project will be designed to open up the site — which today is a large blocky warehouse — with through streets and open space, and planners, in a nod to pandemic outdoor dining, are aiming to provide generous outdoor seating and space for restaurants and retail.
Friday’s filing launches formal review at the Boston Planning & Development Agency, which Berkeley expects could take a year at least. Construction could take three years after that.
Many in the neighborhood have long wanted to see something happen at the old warehouse. Now they’ll be able to debate the details.
One point of contention could be traffic. The project would include 946 underground parking spaces, in an area not easily accessible from major highways. Park said those spaces are needed to serve both the office and residential buildings, but added that Berkeley will improve bike and pedestrian connections, and links to both to the nearby Boston Landing Commuter Rail stop and the Western Avenue bus lanes connecting into Harvard Square. Longer term, he sees the proposed realignment of the Massachusetts Turnpike, and eventual West Station transit hub, as a boon that will open up the the entire area.
There’s a lot going on in Allston-Brighton these days, he said. And this site, long unused, is right in the middle of it.
“It’s truly exciting when you take a step back and look at a map,” he said. “We’re in a pretty good place.”