Cambridge can still get courthouse decision overturned, Decker says (updated)

East Cambridge’s 22-story former courthouse is set to be developed into office space by Leggat McCall Properties.
East Cambridge’s 22-story former courthouse is set to be developed into office space by Leggat McCall Properties.

There’s still a chance to overturn the sale of East Cambridge’s defunct, 22-story courthouse to a developer that plans to fill it with office space, city councillor and state Rep. Marjorie Decker said Friday.

“My conversation with the governor is that that may not be a done deal, and we all need to weigh in if housing is something many of us care deeply about,” Decker said at a City Council roundtable about a plan for nearby Kendall Square that is also drawing questions of whether enough housing is included.

Leggat McCall Properties was chosen by the state Division of Capital Asset Management in December to redevelop the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse. Because its plan included no housing, the decision was universally unpopular with residents and their East Cambridge Planning Team, where president Barbara Broussard said even another developer’s plan with no housing but better community amenities would have been preferable. Leggat McCall’s presentation of plans to the residents was scant compared with other companies’, and a subsequent meeting with a subcommittee of the group apparently was of little help.

When meeting in February with the team to explain the decision, division Commissioner Carole Cornelison undoubtedly didn’t help things by describing her decision as coming from a complex “scoring matrix” that took into account various factors – then saying, as quoted in a Cambridge Chronicle story by Erin Baldassari, “as you all know now, Leggat McCall was selected as the highest bidder.”

“All we heard last time was, ‘We’ll work with the community’ and ‘what’s best for the community,’ and we got none of that in the process,” said team board member Joseph Aiello in the Chronicle story.

Decker noted that the courthouse decision came a month after an announcement of a “Compact Neighborhoods” initiative by Gov. Deval Patrick to add 10,000 multi-family housing units a year to the state. When East Cambridge residents sent a letter to the state in December asking it to re-open bids for the courthouse, they reported getting no response.

There’s no City Council meeting Monday, but Decker already knows her next action for the April 1 meeting.

“I hope my colleagues will join me in my next council resolution where I challenge the governor,” Decker said Friday, “who said he wants to build 10,000 units of housing yet we saw a courthouse in Cambridge go to a developer who’s building no housing.”

Lisa Nickerson, a public relations expert with Nickerson PR who works with Leggat McCall, said Wednesday that there may yet be housing in the building that replaces the courthouse. The April 10 meeting of the East Cambridge Planning Team will feature the unveiling of the first renderings of what the company expects to do at the courthouse, she said.

“When they were designated [as developer by DCAM], it was the beginning of the process, not the end. And they’re looking forward to working with all the residents and the neighborhood and working with the East Cambridge Planning Team and coming up with something that really works for the neighborhood,” Nickerson said. “Leggat McCall didn’t say they wouldn’t do residential, they just said they would consider it. It wasn’t a part of their pitch to DCAM, but they said they would consider it.”

This post was updated March 28, 2013, to add comments by Nickerson and Broussard and to make clear that Leggat McCall representatives did meet with residents. An earlier version said incorrectly that the company had “declined repeatedly” to meet.


4 Responses to "Cambridge can still get courthouse decision overturned, Decker says (updated)"

  1. John Gintell   Monday, March 25, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Are the identities of any of the other bidders (I assume there were some) known? Did any of them propose something that included housing? Is this public information? At least the overall offer and what was proposed.

  2. Mark Jaquith   Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    HYM (Northpoint) Had a rather nice design. Housing wrapped the lower floors, some retail, and they removed the top four floors. Divco West had a pretty forgettable design. I think those were the three in the last round of bidding. East Cambridge Planning Team has a committee that has come up with an interesting plan that lops off seven floors and spreads the mass between that site and the muni. garage next door. It seems pretty complicated legally.

    The winning bid will not be made public until after the property is conveyed.

    What I don’t get is how the Councillor would by-pass the stats bid process and void the P&S contract between the developer and the state.

  3. jayrwasdf   Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Yes all the bidders are known: the final three are posted on the East Cambridge Planning Team’s facebook page. (which is open to anyone, even if you don’t have a facebook account.) Of the original 7 most included housing, with several of the plan housing only (with some retail). The second round, with 3 bidders, the winner was the only one not to include housing.

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