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Harvard picks New York developer to build innovation campus in Allston

Tishman Speyer

After years of planning, Harvard University took a major step toward building out its vast holdings in Allston, announcing Thursday it has selected a prominent New York-based real estate firm to develop the next large section.

The firm, Tishman Speyer, beat out almost a score of local and national developers for the high-profile gig to build a 900,000-square-foot, mixed-use complex on 14 acres along Western Avenue.

One of the reasons this prize was so fiercely sought: The winner will likely get a leg up when Harvard eventually looks to develop the rest of the university’s land holdings in Allston that it has accumulated during the past three decades. Harvard’s ambitious goal: nothing short of building another Kendall Square on the Boston side of the Charles River, a high-tech hub with a mix of innovative businesses and academics that would be the envy of any city.


For now, though, Tishman Speyer chief executive Rob Speyer said his focus is on building out the 14-acre portion of what Harvard has dubbed its Enterprise Research Campus, acrossfrom Harvard’s business school and next to its soon-to-open engineering complex.

“We’re going to create an innovation community with a neighborhood feel, where faculty want to teach, where students want to learn, where families want to live, where companies want to innovate,” Speyer said.

Nearly 20 development teams formally approached Harvard for the job. A Harvard affiliate established to develop the Allston land narrowed the list down to nine bidders. Two other finalists emerged along with Tishman Speyer: Boston-based HYM Investment Group, and another group with strong local ties, a team led by Alexandria Real Estate Equities and National Development.

Tishman Speyer itself has a track record in Boston, with control of some 3 million square feet of offices and other space in the city. Perhaps most notably, the firm developed Pier 4, the recently completed mixed-use project in the Seaport where the legendary Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant once stood.


Harvard Business School dean Nitin Nohria, who chairs the Allston land company board, said the amount of money offered to the university for the long-term lease rights was not a major determining factor among the finalists. Instead, Nohria said, it was Tishman Speyer’s vision for creating a new neighborhood that would fit well within its surroundings that stood out.

“We really do think of this as not just an opportunity for Harvard,” Nohria said. “We actually view this as an opportunity for the city.”

The broad parameters for the multibuilding project have already been established through a permitting process with the Boston Planning & Development Agency. The project would feature 400,000 square feet of offices or labs, a 250,000-square-foot hotel and conference facility, and 250,000 square feet of housing (or roughly 300 apartments). About half of the property could be devoted to surface lots, containing some 800 parking spaces — for now. However, Nohria said he expects most of that surface parking would eventually be developed as well.

The precise details still need to be hashed out by Harvard and Tishman Speyer, in consultation with city officials and neighbors in Allston.

“This is going to be the furthest thing from a technology fortress,” Speyer said. “This is going to be a neighborhood, a neighborhood that embraces the diverse community around it.”

Still to be determined: how many apartments will be set aside for affordable rents. Harvard has committed to going beyond the city requirement of 13 percent. But state Representative Michael Moran, who represents much of the neighborhood, would like to see at least 20 percent, if not more.


Harvard also made the diversity of the bidding teams a factor. Toward that end, Tishman Speyer has committed to allocating 5 percent of the equity in the project to minority investors, and lead architect Jeanne Gang is one of the most prominent women in her field.

Another important element: setting aside incubation space for startups. Tishman Speyer is working with LabCentral, a Cambridge-based provider of shared lab spaces for life sciences firms, to develop startup space.

The promise of a public realm that is inviting and accessible might have been the biggest factor, though.

“The most important element of our vision is the public space,” Speyer said. “It’s an unusual thing for a real estate developer to say, because we’re usually focused on buildings. In this case, the public space is going to animate the project.”

Harvard has another 22 acres next to this project also waiting to be developed, as well as roughly 100 acres in the former Beacon Park rail yards southeast of Cambridge Street. But most of that land probably won’t be developed until a huge realignment of the Massachusetts Turnpike through Allston is complete, a decade-long project that is still in its early stages.

“Our job is to make this first phase a great success and set a strong foundation for Harvard’s overall vision,” Speyer said. “The opportunity to partner with Harvard to create an innovation community, that’s once in a lifetime.”


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