The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched a dramatic remake of a swath of Kendall Square on Tuesday, the latest effort to turn the bustling business district into a full-fledged neighborhood and meet the booming demand for more housing, offices, and research space.
The plan, six years in the making, calls for six new buildings on what is now a string of parking lots along Main Street. In addition to academic and business uses, the complex would include apartments for graduate students and low-income tenants, stores, and a tree-covered plaza near the Charles River. The $1.2 billion plan was submitted to Cambridge City Hall Tuesday.
The broad reach of the redevelopment is MIT’s attempt to help solve challenges bedeviling Kendall Square, which has some of the most expensive rents on the East Coast, virtually no vacant office space, and a dearth of housing for the tens of thousands of people who work or go to school there.
“We’re trying to create this mixing bowl,” said Steven Marsh, MIT’s chief real estate executive. “We want people to feel welcome here.”
Marsh said MIT could begin construction as soon as 2016 if Cambridge approves its final plan by the end of the year.
It could take six to 10 years to complete.
“This is not really theoretical anymore,” he said.
Four of the new buildings would add nearly 1 million square feet of office and research space, expanding the drum-tight East Cambridge office market by 8 percent. MIT would also build 740 apartments in two buildings — one for graduate-student housing, the other a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.
Coupled with the retail options and additional open space, Marsh said, the plan as a whole would more fully integrate MIT’s campus into Kendall’s booming economy.
“It’s really the nexus of campus and community,” said Marsh, who is director of real estate for the MIT Investment Management Co. “We have the business community, the research community, and MIT’s campus all in the same place.”
Iram Farooq, Cambridge’s acting assistant city manager for community development, said MIT appears to have balanced a lot of needs carefully.
“There was a lot of emphasis on getting more housing, on retail, on open space,” she said.
The MIT redevelopment is part of a larger effort by the city to dramatically increase the scale of development in Kendall Square with a rezoning plan adopted in 2013. The city now encourages bigger buildings and more dense development to produce a more close-knit neighborhood with a mix of uses.
Another major property owner in the area, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, is in the midst of a 2.6 million-square-foot build-out of office space, labs, and housing along Binney Street.
Cambridge is also considering additional zoning changes that may allow construction of the city’s first skyscraper, on the grounds of the Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center, a 14-acre property that the federal government is planning to redevelop.
MIT started talking with the city and neighbors in 2009, then put things on hold while Cambridge developed its broader plan for Kendall. Early in the process, neighbors objected to MIT’s emphasis on commercial buildings and pressed the university to add more housing, citing soaring rents that are due in part to the thousands of graduate students at MIT.
In the current plan, MIT would replace its 1960s-vintage Eastgate tower, which has 201 units for married graduate students, with a 450-unit graduate-student dorm two blocks away. It also plans a 290-unit apartment building, with 50 affordable units, across Broadway.
Leland Cheung, a Cambridge city councilor who pushed MIT for more housing, said he was pleased the school plans to build units for its graduate students.
“They’ve followed through on their word,” he said. “Affordable housing has gone up. They have a compelling plan for street activation. I think they’ve been thoughtful about engaging residents.”
However, Fred Salvucci, a former state transportation secretary who teaches civil engineering at MIT, said the university should be building even more apartments for its 5,000 graduate students.
“Rent is spiking dramatically, and students are both victims of it and driving demand,” Salvucci said. “This would be a perfect place to deal with a substantial part of the need.”
MIT won zoning approval in 2013, and since then has been designing specific buildings and the spaces around them while receiving input from city officials, neighbors, housing advocates, and preservationists.
An earlier version of this story online misstated the estimated cost of the project. It is $1.2 billion.