Long-vacant Boston Tech Center is full of possibilities

Hidden away in the heart of Allston Brighton, almost equidistant from all the transit options and centers of neighborhood life, is a building known as the Boston Tech Center. It’s a massive building, occupying most of a 5.2 acre site, and has been vacant since 2001, according to The Harvard Crimson. Harvard University bought it in 2007 and never did anything with it.

Recently, an agreement was reached for a land swap with the Skating Club of Boston, which was looking to expand. They would have traded their existing land on Western Ave in Brighton for the parcel and torn down the building in order to erect several skating rinks. That project managed to get approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, but a few weeks ago the Skating Club did an about face and the Tech Center remains owned by Harvard and looks to remain vacant.

As I see it, the problem with the building is that it’s so big it could only be rented by a major tenant, but its location is thus that it’s not attractive to major tenants. It has the space for a big box store, but deliveries would be very difficult; office users would have to come in by car for the most part and find themselves stuck in traffic. I think that’s why Harvard hasn’t done anything with it — the logistical issues are just too much.

I think that, at this point, the most likely future of the Tech Center is sale to a developer who will tear it down and put up apartments. Maybe with retail space, maybe with fewer than two parking spaces per unit and all the usual arguments about development. I guess I could support such a project, since we need all the housing we can get, but it’s a very passive way of doing things and looks outside the neighborhood too much.

Examining the Tech Center from inside the neighborhood, things appear differently. The location, across the Pike from Boston Landing, is basically the geographic center of Allston Brighton — only Oak Square and Cleveland Circle are more than a 10-15 minute walk away from it. It’s about equidistant from the Western Avenue corridor and Allston Village and it’s right at the Everett Street bridge. One day soon, in the fullness of time, the Boston Landing Commuter Rail station will be right there.

Some of the common issues in the neighborhood include a lack of connection between north and south and a lack of community space. Other complaints I’ve heard over the years have included concerns over rising rents for artists, a lack of space for entrepreneurs and so on. In this respect, the Tech Center has boundless possibilities.

Co-working space, space for small startups, community meeting space, artist studios, maybe even a Reading Terminal type year-round market, space for Pop Allston when the building it’s in gets now torn down. On 5.2 acres, what couldn’t you do? According to the City of Boston Assessing Department, there are 450,000 square feet of space available, all of it well within walking distance for most people in the neighborhood.Using the building for these commercial/industrial/community purposes would have more benefits than making use of this vacant building. It would attract people from both sides of the neighborhood and add vitality to North Allston, which can seem a lot further from everything than it actually is. This would make the neighborhood more like a neighborhood. It would add variety and may even help with neighborhood stabilization by helping entrepreneurs produce good jobs for residents and become homeowners instead of moving on to Cambridge, New York and Silicon Valley.

What can I say? The building has been an albatross for 15 years and complaining to (or about) Harvard doesn’t seem to be getting anything done.

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