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Former Massport CEO joins Harvard to work on Allston development

Tom Glynn (left) and Harvard Business School dean Nitin Nohria, at Harvard Business School. Harvard University

So much for retirement.

Two weeks after he stepped down as the Massachusetts Port Authority’s chief executive, Thomas Glynn is joining Harvard University to help the school with its efforts to build out the former Allston railyard properties, one of the last big blank slates for development in Boston.

Glynn, 72, starts on Monday as chief executive of a new, unnamed development arm of Harvard that will oversee its Enterprise Research Campus in Allston. The Harvard Business School’s dean, Nitin Nohria, will chair the new subsidiary’s governing board, while Glynn will manage day-to-day operations and report to the board.

Glynn will initially work out of an office on Harvard’s main campus in Cambridge but will eventually be based in Allston, along with a small staff.


To start, Harvard envisions a 900,000-square-foot, multi-building complex on 14 acres the university owns along Western Avenue, near the business school and a new science and engineering school that’s set to open in 2020. The project would include office and lab space, residential units, and a hotel and conference center. The school still needs to decide whether it will hire one developer for the entire project, or divide up the work.

Over the past two decades, Harvard has gained control of a massive swath of land in Allston previously used by the freight-train operator CSX, starting with a deal in 2000. The Enterprise Research Campus would occupy 36 acres of former CSX land north of Cambridge Street. Harvard still needs to craft a development plan for the roughly 100 acres between Cambridge Street and the back end of the Boston University campus, known as Allston Landing South.

Glynn taught at the Harvard Kennedy School, just across the Charles from Allston, before joining Massport. He has a doctorate in social policy from Brandeis University, but the bulk of his career before Massport wasn’t in academia. Instead, he held top jobs at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and at Partners HealthCare.


With his background, Glynn knows better than almost anyone how the levers of power and politics work in the city. He’ll need that expertise, especially as he tries to fortify ties between Harvard and the Allston neighborhood — a relationship that has sometimes turned strained, if not contentious, over the years.

One big question mark: the fate of West Station, a commuter train stop on the MBTA’s Framingham/Worcester Line that Harvard has vowed to help fund. Harvard has said it is willing to contribute $50 million, or more than half of the project’s cost, and up to $8 million for an interim stop until a permanent station can be built.

At Massport, Glynn was a key player in several projects on the South Boston Waterfront on properties controlled by the port authority. Before he left, Glynn responded to criticism over how much of the Seaport has been developed — including complaints about uninspired architecture and limited civic spaces — by ensuring that newer Massport projects include public realm improvements.

Now, he has the opportunity to shape a new corner of the city, the old CSX properties in Allston. Aside from the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston, there’s probably no other section of the city with more untapped development potential.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.