In its halcyon days prior to the dot-com bust almost a quarter-century ago, Globix Corp. agreed to lease the whole of the 450,000-square-foot Boston Tech Center, an empty former warehouse along the Mass. Turnpike on the Allston-Brighton line that would be transformed into a $120 million data center for the Internet company.
Then the tech boom came to a screeching halt. Globix backed out of the deal, later declared bankruptcy, and was acquired by RCN Corp. And the prominent building at 176 Lincoln St. stayed empty.
It still is, and today the vast warehouse remains a white elephant whose emptiness is all the more striking when compared with the flurry of activity in this corridor of Allston-Brighton, including the huge Boston Landing campus across the highway. But that could soon change, with the Boston Planning & Development Agency board scheduled to vote Thursday on a proposal by Berkeley Investments to turn the 5.2-acre site into a three-building lab and residential campus.
“The extensive planning-led process with the city and community (via the Western Avenue Corridor Study and Rezoning process) was a critical component to unlocking the potential of a site that has been vacant for more than three decades,” said Young Park, Berkeley’s president, in a statement. “Berkeley is excited by the opportunity to move forward with a project that will transform this location into a vibrant part of the Allston/Brighton neighborhood and further contribute to Boston’s economy.”
Berkeley plans two lab and office buildings spanning 538,000 square feet and another building with 252 apartments, retail, and restaurant space. Nonprofit makerspace Artisans Asylum — now located down the block at 96 Holton St. — will have space, with room to grow, offered at a discounted rent. The project will include 2 acres of open space. There will also be 710 underground parking spaces — a 25 percent reduction from Berkeley’s initial proposal — and 566 bike parking spaces.
The long-vacant 176 Lincoln had been the subject of much speculation in real estate circles for years, particularly as development proposals and other major projects popped up in the surrounding neighborhood. Harvard University had acquired the property through an affiliate in December 2006 for $16 million. But it was more than a decade before the university issued a request for proposals for the site, and ultimately selected Berkeley’s vision to build an “innovation village” there under a ground lease.
Anthony D’Isidoro, president of the Allston Civic Association, said that, while he wished Harvard had gotten more involved in mitigation and benefits for 176 Lincoln St. — as it has for the nearby Enterprise Research Campus with developer Tishman Speyer — he thinks the neighborhood will welcome “knowing that that monstrosity is going to be torn down and something much nicer is going to be built.”
“They’re just happy to see something happen there,” he said. “Some kind of finality and predictability.”
Indeed, at a recent community meeting for the project, neighborhood resident and Impact Advisory Group member Patricia Centola said she was glad to see new life come to the empty lot.
“I’m really excited about this project, because it does activate Lincoln Street in a way that it just is not now,” Centola said.
The same public meeting brought support from union leaders from Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, Iron Workers Local 7, and Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12. However, some community members expressed concern about the impact of construction — not just for 176 Lincoln St., but the multiple large-scale projects either planned or underway on the nearby stretch of Western Avenue and Soldiers Field Road, including The Davis Cos.’ residential project at the former Skating Club of Boston, King Street Properties’ lab and residential project at 280 Western Ave., and National Development and Mount Vernon Co.’s lab, office, and television studio campus at 1170-1190 Soldiers Field Road.
The aggregate of those combined projects can cause stress and a change in Allston’s quality of life, said Tim McHale at the December public meeting.
“We’ve lost our favorite bar. We’ve lost our historic diner. And we’re losing other things along the way,” McHale said. “No project is an island.”
The BPDA board is scheduled to vote on the 176 Lincoln St. project on Thursday evening. If approved, it will then head to the city’s Zoning Commission. It’s not immediately clear when Berkeley expects to start construction.
This story was updated to reflect that the project is located in Brighton, not Allston.