Factions seeking space at Foundry are impatient for answers — and move-in dates
Residents and the Kendall Square innovation community are having their own talks on the future of the Foundry building, both sides impatient with the pace of officials’ work since the 52,000-square-foot structure switched to city ownership in January.
But so are city officials.
Alexandria Real Estate Equities passed the deed to the city in exchange for the right to build up to nine stories tall on a dense, 15-acre biotech lab and office campus along Binney Street, and the agreement was that at least 10,000 square feet of the Foundry building would be for community use.
“This could be great opportunity for the city of Cambridge to give back some of the great gains that have been made through these zoning changes and development in our part of the city,” said Mark Jaquith, an East Cambridge resident, during Monday’s meeting of the City Council. “The negotiations for this building were hard-fought. I have to thank folks at Alexandria for negotiating in good faith on that and would ask that the council make that 10,000 square feet fast-tracked … the residents look forward to the city stepping up and following through.”
Business or the arts
On the business side, Tim Rowe of the Cambridge Innovation Center high-tech incubator and Kendall Square Business Association reminded councillors that the 101 Rogers St. building has been empty for a year and suggested they simply do a short-term lease “to the highest bidder … so we can get it back into productive use.”
Development such as that under way from Alexandria or planned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is making Kendall Square too expensive for the tech startups that helped make the real estate so desirable in the first place, he has said. Rents average $54 a square foot and are headed upward, and Rowe wants to ensure struggling startups still have a home there.
Also speaking to encourage startup office use at the Foundry was Shaun Johnson, of the Boston Startup School, a six-week program that coaches entrepreneurs, who covets the space for himself and other young companies. “It’s not really about me and it’s not about my business, but it’s about all the people who are just like me,” Johnson said, hoping for “the opportunity to revisit what the Foundry building could be — space for collaboration and opportunity for people who aren’t as represented [in Kendall].”
His opposite number from the community side was Lace Campbell, owner and executive director of the Beyond the 4th Wall Theatre and Creative Arts Studio, an inclusive, all-ages theater group that lost its space in the YWCA last year and has been essentially homeless since — even forced to store props in a space in Peterborough, N.H., Jaquith said, and to cut some programming. Campbell asked that the council convert Foundry space into a center for the arts that could be used by her program and other nonprofits, including the Deborah Mason School of Dance, North Cambridge Family Opera and other programs that will be displaced when their Cottage Park Avenue home is torn down to make way for 70 apartments.
“Right now there’s no such space in Cambridge,” Campbell told councillors. “We’d not only be able to continue our work, but to grow.”
The council unanimously adopted an order asking the city manager to update them on existing orders from as far back as June that would help “move the community process forward,” but after the meeting Rowe said he expected a full city process to take a year to 18 months.
The business-community split has been reflected in discussion among councillors also, with Leland Cheung acknowledging the urgency of the situation for startup firms and East Cambridge’s Tim Toomey expressing alarm last summer that there had already been tours of the site without his knowledge. While Toomey filed the first policy order urging action on the Foundry in June, by July he and Cheung were allied in seeking answers. City managers Robert W. Healy and Richard C. Rossi gave a sense of the legal complexity underlying the city’s eventual actions at the building during a Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee meeting led by Cheung in June, while councillor David Maher added a wrinkle in saying the city’s poor record as a property owner raised the question of whether a sale was a better way to go, with proceeds being put into a trust fund for arts groups. The building is assessed at $8.5 million.
“I believe it’s going to take some time for us to really wrap that up,” Rowe said of pinning down a final purpose for the building, a four-story, industrial brick structure built around 1895 and filled with odd spaces, including low ceilings on lower floors and a soaring ceiling on the top floor. For much of its working life as an actual foundry, the building was used to make Blake & Knowles brand pumps for various uses.
Business and the arts
After the council meeting Rowe and other members of the city’s tech community came over to meet Jaquith, who is active with the influential East Cambridge Planning Team neighborhood group. He proposed that the community and business factions work together to get the Foundry in action.
At first resistant because Rowe’s proposed month-to-month business use seemed to be “just commercializing the whole building,” Jaquith ultimately said that with a guarantee of community use for at least 10,000 square feet inside and approximately 2,000 square feet of open space outside, “I’m right there with you.”
At the June committee meeting, Rowe seemed keen on compromise and uses that served residents as well as the tech startups, including using the open space for day care. (Proposed uses so far include High School Extension or School Department space, municipal information technology offices, a public market and grocery, a machine shop and space for tech education or other classes, a community kitchen, neighborhood groups, seniors, veterans, the arts, dance groups, low-cost office space for nonprofits and day care.) Some official notes from that meeting:
Rowe stated that cities need new and old spaces. There may not be a building in Kendall Square that could support a low-profit community process. This is an opportunity … Rowe stated that General Assembly in New York has classes that teach people the skills needed for jobs for the 21st century. There are 100,000 unfilled jobs in Massachusetts. This organization is working to fix this. They will open at night at CIC because the site is not used at night. He spoke about the need for community gathering spaces as well as workspaces. The HUB in San Francisco is a co-working organization and works for the benefit of companies. The HUB will open in Cambridge or Boston. All these options work without public funding.
Rowe stated that the Foundry has outdoor space which is needed for a daycare facility. However, he cited that there are fire and code issues with this space. The space could be used for a machine shop. Tech Shop is the largest organization in the country. There is a need for affordable space for startup companies. Massachusetts, he said, is losing companies because there is no startup space. A community kitchen is another great idea for the space.
Councillor Ken Reeves stated that he is not clear on the social entrepreneur space. He asked Rowe to explain. Rowe explained that social entrepreneurs share the space with class space and there is an economic system that supports the businesses. Reeves stated that Third Sector NE has a similar facility as well as the Philips Brooks House. Rowe stated that there are a number of different models. This is 21st Century co-working model. Councillor Reeves spoke about day care reality and the need in US and MA. There are not enough day care facilities. The Red Ribbon Commission decided that more day care and early childcare space is drastically needed as well as the need for larger and better spaces for day care facilities. Human Services Department should be looking at the day care issue. He would not want to put toddlers in buildings where there is exhaust. Affordable day care should be addressed.