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New University Park Construction To Feature Hotel and Star Market

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Staff ReportEr

Construction on a $45 million development project at University Park at MIT is set to begin next month.

The project will add a hotel, a 1,000-car parking garage, a Star Market, and 100,000 square feet of office space to the University Park development.

Forest City Development, which is developing the property under a long-term lease from MIT, is currently soliciting construction companies for the project, said Jonathan Ginsberg, director of government and community relations for Forest City.

The office building and the Star Market should open December 1997, with the hotel following in mid-1998, he said.

Hotel name will feature MIT

The four star, 200-room hotel, which will be located at 20 Sidney Street, will be managed by Doubletree Hotels for Forest City. But its name will not involve "Doubletree."

"It'll have a unique name featuring MIT," Ginsberg said.

The hotel will have meeting rooms for 85 to 100 people and a roof garden but it will not have larger conference rooms. "It won't be a place for a wedding,"Ginsberg said.

The second floor of the hotel building has been reserved for a Star Market. The lease for the space should be signed next week, Ginsberg said.

The Star Market will feature prepared foods and will cater specifically to the MITcommunity, Ginsberg said. The Star Market is also slated to house a Starbuck's Cafe.

Star Market officials could not be reached for comment.

Attached to the 20 Sidney Street building will be a 1,000-car parking garage. The third floor of the garage will connect to the Star Market, Ginsberg said. In addition, customers will be able to reach the Star Market via an entrance and escalator entrance on Green Street.

The five-story office building, located at 350 Massachusetts Avenue, will feature office space on the upper three floors and retail space on the bottom two floors.

Cambridge Trust Company has already signed a letter of intent with Forest City to lease part of the first floor for a branch bank. Forest City is actively soliciting restaurants and other retailers to fill out the rest of the space, Ginsberg said.

The top two floors will house Tofias, Fleishman, Shapiro and Company, an accounting firm.The remaining floor of office space has not yet been leased, he said.

MITto help fund construction

In the past, Forest City has financed its projects with outside sources and held complete ownership of the buildings.

The University Park project will be different because MIT has made a substantial investment in the construction. MIT will provide much of the financing and becomes a partial owner of the buildings upon their completion.

Financing for the project was provided by MIT because outside investors were not willing to finance the entire project themselves. Some of the financing will come from traditional sources, Ginsberg said.

"It's in our interest to see this development completed as soon as possible," said Director of Planning O. Robert Simha MCP '57.

MITassembled the land in the University Park development over 25 years ago. In 1983, it selected Forest City Development to develop the land and gave it a 75-year lease to the land.

Simha said that the new developments on this land will help the city through new tax revenue, jobs, and services. In addition, this area of the city has needed a supermarket since the Stop &Shop closed on Memorial Drive in 1995, he said.

The block encompassing Random Hall may someday become a part of the development but not until new undergraduate housing is built to replace Random, Simha said. In addition, the property on that block - from Blanche Street to Landsdowne Street onMassachusetts Avenue - is not yet owned by MIT.

Although it is MITland, University Park will not be patrolled by the CampusPolice, Ginsberg said. "We have our own unarmed security here and a good relationship with the Cambridge police," he said.

Forest City optimistic for future

Forest City is anxious to begin construction on phase two of the development now that all the regulatory obstacles have been passed.

The City of Cambridge finished the process by deeding a section of Blanche Street to MIT in late 1995. The section, between Green Street and Franklin Street, will be closed and incorporated into the parking garage and hotel.

Market Hall, the final retail building of the development, is planned to be positioned on Sidney Street across from the hotel. "We'd love to do a cinema," Ginsberg said. However, the limited space would prevent the cinema from having any more than four screens. Forest City is seeking a cinema operator willing to work with the space, Ginsberg said.

The rest of the project is slated to house additional office and research and development space. At the same time, however, the company has a "commitment to open space" and plans a large common park for future construction.

In order to complete the project, MITmust construct a total of 400 units of housing at University Park as stated in an agreement with the Cambridge City Council signed in 1989. So far, over 200 units have been constructed by Forest City and Homeowners Rehab Inc., a non-profit housing developer.

The Cambridge City Council also has the authority to stop construction on the development if car traffic exceeds 1,700 trips during rush hour. University Park officials are encouraging the use of public transportation and are planning on running a shuttle between the site and the Central Square T stop.

When completed, the project is expected to have 2.2 to 2.5 million feet of office space. No future retail development is being planned in addition to the Market Hall development.

"We want to weave this area back into the neighborhood," Ginsberg said. He added that the relationship between MITand Forest City was "very ahead of its time" in 1983 and is still being used as a model by other universities today.

"We're seeing institutional players coming more active in real estate because they can take the hits during a recession and reap benefits later," Ginsberg said.