Thursday, July 18, 2024

The building owned by Enroot Education at 93-99 Bishop Allen Drive is headed for a sale. (Photo: Google)

The Enroot Education nonprofit has decided to sell the building it owns at 93-99 Bishop Allen Drive near Central Square, a move that threatens to unseat other city charities as well: the Cambridge Community Foundation, Cambridge Camping and Next Step charity for youth living with a chronic life-threatening illness all rent space in the building. The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center also rents space.

The dozen-member board has decided a sale serves its fiduciary responsibility best, according to a communication from the Mayor’s Office, and the nonprofit says it intends to sell to the highest bidder – a message Enroot’s executive director, Ben Clark, later called incorrect. That “is not the approach we are taking,” Clark said in a phone call following initial publication of this story that clarified that when the building goes up for sale in 2019, “we will be considering all offers.”

“We would be thrilled to see it remain home to nonprofits,” Clark said.

letter to the public provided Thursday laid out some issues involved in the board’s decision. “Our building is now more than 100 years old, and the increasing costs of maintenance and operation have constrained our organization’s ability to focus on our primary mission,” he wrote.

A letter to the public from Enroot Education made public. Click for a PDF version.

The timing and details of the process are still being determined, Clark said, but Enroot has notified its seven tenants and “are actively involved in conversations with them,” stressing that a sale won’t be initiated before the new year.

A big lot near Central Square

With the news becoming public only in the past week and a sale likely on a fast track, tenants and city officials are only beginning to grapple with what happens next.

“We have had internal discussions and discussions with the tenants and owner, but have not come to any conclusion in terms of what role the city would play. We’re in really early discussions,” City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said. “It’s very complicated and we’re just trying to figure out what approaches we can take.”

The four-story brick building, holding about 19,500 square feet of space, was built in 1910 and assessed this year for a value of about $3.7 million. (As a building set aside for charitable services, the building has been exempt from paying property taxes.) Real estate citywide has been selling at a feverish pace and considerable markup for years, which puts a squeeze on renters that must leave to allow for construction and are unlikely to be able to afford rent in a new building, when owners are looking to make back both land and construction costs as well as generate a profit.

Raises difficult questions

Mayor Marc McGovern, confirming that he and DePasquale had met with the owners of the building and tenant representatives, said the Enroot property and similar situations – including at the EMF Building across Central Square, where visual artists and performers were evicted from their studios and rehearsal spaces after a sale – raised difficult questions for the city.

“We’ve been trying to think about this larger issue of how to support nonprofits. How do you stay here if your building gets sold out from under you? What do you do when it’s so hard to find affordable space?” McGovern said.

“It’s getting harder and harder for nonprofits to survive in Cambridge,” he said, but there’s little guidance on the city’s role in making it easier.

Michael Monestime, president of the Central Square Business Association, was distressed by news of the sale. “We’ve got to find ways to keep those nonprofits in Central Square,” he said, noting a “net loss” when looking at the loss of the nonprofit row with the departure of the Out of the Blue art gallery and EMF Building. He wondered if it was time for city lawmakers to institute a right of first refusal for displaced organizations – allowing them first crack at renovated space at their original address, and ideally at a lower rate.

Leases running out

Bill Kubicek, founder and executive director of Next Step, says the nonprofit is looking at next steps as its lease runs out at 93-99 Bishop Allen Drive. (Photo:

The tenants of 93-99 Bishop Allen Drive have leases of anywhere from six months to 2.5 years. Next Step has a lease running through April 2020, said Bill Kubicek, the nonprofit’s founder and executive director, and is only starting to grapple with where it might relocate to continue its mission.

“We’re trying to approach this systematically and look at what’s out there and create a plan. We have one and a half years to get organized, but short of winning the lottery tonight, a year and a half is a really short time,” Kubicek said. “It’s going to be really hard to remake what we have in Central Square – this location is unbelievable for the teens we work with, and it can be really tough to get any place close to a T stop anymore. We felt lucky to get it.”

Next Step has rented about 1,400 square feet in the building for four to five years, only a block north of an MBTA red line subway stop that provides easy access for kids weakened by dealing with chronic diseases. The agency also recently built a recording studio and media lab, which Kubicek said had been “a really strong” expense.

Kubicek had sympathy for Enroot’s situation and felt the nonprofit – formerly Cambridge Community Services and the City Links program, which has a mission to help immigrant students thrive within the U.S. education system – was also “kind of victimized by the escalating costs of Central Square.” The Enroot board has an obligation to safeguard its work, and “if they’re subsidizing all the other agencies [renting from them] that’s not in their best interests,” he said.

Still, Kubicek said, “When this building stops leasing, it’s going to be a big blow.”

This post was updated Oct. 17, 2018, with comments from Michael Monestime of the Central Square Business Association. It was updated Oct. 18-19, 2018, with a public letter and comments from Enroot Education.