A renewed plan for East Cambridge’s empty Foundry building could see it open in 2020 and complete in 2021, filled with community arts, nonprofits, maker spaces and job training focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
An amended plan for the building was approved unanimously Monday by the City Council, clearing the way for funding and design work, with construction set to begin around the spring of 2019, City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said.
Expected costs have risen. Previously pegged at up to $25 million for design and construction, the revised plan presented by the City Manager’s Office and Tom Evans, executive director of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, now calls for around $26 million to $30 million, with Evans’ agency chipping in $7 million and holding another $2 million in operating reserves.
“Obviously we’ll be coming back to the City Council” for money, DePasquale said, putting the timing for the request for $13 million to $18 million from free cash at around October 2018. “If you had told me a year ago we’d be putting in $26 million to $31 million to this building, I would say, ‘I don’t think so.’ But I am really excited about where we’re at.”
The 37,500-square-foot Foundry Works Building, at 101 Rogers St., would hold such amenities as a black box theater, art studios, kitchen and cafe, an art gallery and 5,000 square feet of space for nonprofits. It was deeded to the city in 2012 as part of a development zoning deal that specified “a preference for its use for municipal or community uses.” The first process, coming after years of discussion, was called to a halt by the authority and sent back to the drawing board late last year; it had resulted in only one submission that failed in the eyes of many to meet the terms of the deal emphasizing public uses.
The problem was trying to hire a single company to design, build and run the site, Deputy City Manager Lisa Peterson said. The key difference in the new, better-funded approach: “We really want to have a city-led design and construction working closely with the CRA.”
Officials realized “it wasn’t going to work,” DePasquale said, and that Cambridge had to develop the Foundry to make operations afterward less focused on revenue and more focused on community.
As a result, instead of bringing in a single submission to operate the self-sustaining Foundry after construction, there has been “tremendous response,” Evans said. “Suddenly interest is pouring in.” From the input of the 13 companies – most from Cambridge and Somerville – will come a request for proposals that will craft a business plan and bring in an operator intended to operate long term, with reviews every 10 years.
Because how the building is run will change depending on the operator, the design is expected to reflect the building’s industrial past, “with big-volume spaces that can handle lots of different things,” Evan said. “We hope that we’re building something that’s rugged and durable and adaptable.”
A team has been interviewing experts in theaters and other uses that will be included in the design, and traveling to see similar reuses of industrial buildings such as in Jamaica Plain, Worcester and Baltimore, Evans said.
“It’s been a long road, but I think we’re on the right path,” councillor Tim Toomey said.