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UPark housing units open

@ByName:By Annabelle Boyd

MIT has opened the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts, the first 140 residential units to be built on the former Simplex Wire and Cable Company site. In compliance with a Cambridge City Council zoning ordinance, half of those units are designated as low- and moderate-income housing.

The residential building is one part of the $250 million University Park Complex that the Institute plans to build on the Simplex site.

MIT still must build 260 more residential units to fulfill its obligation to the council ordinance.

As of this month, MIT has also opened one new and two refurbished buildings on the Simplex site. These buildings will be used for retail space, research and development, and offices.

Sidney Street, the only road leading to the site, has been widened to better handle the traffic expected to enter the area as a result of the development. New street lights have been installed, and landscaping improvements have continued.

Construction on the 27-acre site has progressed "well," according to MIT spokesman Ronald P. Suduiko.

"We are projected to move ahead on our mission to build more housing on Brookline Street, and hope to open another 140-180 units soon," Suduiko said.

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Another building is planned to go up this year, the first one to be built on the other side of Sidney Street, Suduiko said.

The University Park development will be completed within 10-15 years, according to Suduiko. It will contain a 350-room hotel, numerous offices, retail space, laboratories, and residential housing. Suduiko said that it will generate substantial revenues for the city and will create 7000 new jobs.

According to MIT spokesman Walter L. Milne, University Park will be similar in scale to Kendall Square, although it will have more varied uses and will be less focused on office space.

History of Simplex

MIT acquired the Simplex site in 1969 and began to study future development of the area in the mid-to-late 1970s, according to Suduiko. In 1979, the city asked MIT to put its plans on hold while it commissioned its own study of the district.

In 1983, MIT hired Forest City Development, a Cleveland-based firm, to develop the Simplex site.

In 1985, the city of Cambridge appointed a group called the Blue Ribbon Committee to formulate recommendations for the large development desired by MIT. This group -- with representatives from MIT, Forest City, the Cambridge community and outside planning experts -- made recommendations in January 1987 that drew criticism from many neighborhood residents.

The group called for Simplex to include areas for public exhibition, offices for research and development, and up to 300 units of mixed-income housing. But community residents wanted MIT to provide more housing and blue-collar jobs and to avoid "bulldozing the local businesses."

Many neighborhood residents spoke out against the Blue Ribbon report at city council meetings. The Simplex Steering Committee, a community residents' group concerned about effects of the Simplex development on Cambridge, presented a plan of its own that called for greater low- and moderate-income housing and less research and development office space. The city council rejected the SSC's alternative proposal.

Meanwhile, in June, the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency found that MIT had violated state laws by storing mislabeled open drums of waste material at 31 Landsdowne Street on the Simplex site. The discovery caused even further distrust between neighborhood residents and MIT.

In October 1987 the SSC sponsored a two-day rally against MIT's planned development. Following the rally, a group of homeless people and protesters began camping out on the Simplex property. Their month-long protest, dubbed "Tent City," ended on Nov. 20, when the Campus Police evicted the group, arresting 10 in the process.

Despite the negative publicity generated by the "Tent City" protest, the Cambridge City Council approved MIT's zoning petition in January 1988. That effectively ended community activists' hopes for blocking the development.