CAMBRIDGE — The big blank space in the heart of Kendall Square could soon be sketched in with a mini-city all its own.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology is pushing ahead with detailed plans for its massive redo of the Volpe Transportation Center, filing last week for a special permit with the city of Cambridge to build eight office and residential towers on the 14-acre site north of Broadway.
The filing provides the clearest vision yet of what MIT has planned for a site — which it is purchasing in a $750 million deal with the federal government — that today is mostly parking lots and fenced-in lawns amid some of the most valuable real estate on the East Coast. Community presentations last fall, and the permit filing itself, show towers as tall as 382 feet, along with more than 2 acres of open space, a community center, and new streets that will better integrate the huge block into its surrounding neighborhood.
The basics of the project — which will include about 1,400 residential units and 1.7 million square feet of office and lab space — were outlined in zoning approved by the Cambridge City Council in 2017. Now MIT is fleshing out details, from the look and feel of the buildings to the number of trees that will be planted. The proposal will go before the Planning Board and include a public hearing. MIT notes that it already has held dozens of public and community meetings to help shape the project, and those will continue going forward.
Construction remains several years in the future. As part of its deal with the General Services Administration, MIT agreed first to build a new home for the federal transportation research center that has long occupied the site, before it can start work on the rest. That building — on 4 acres along Binney Street — is under construction and on schedule to open in late 2023.