Thursday, May 23, 2024

The 585 Kendall building in a rendering from July.

The gaping space on Third Street in the heart of Cambridge’s Kendall Square came a step closer to being filled Wednesday with a groundbreaking ceremony and party celebrating what was to come: A 16-story tower in three gleaming tiers, with Takeda scientists overhead and community and creative space at the base. 

The structure known as 585 Kendall is expected to be finished in 2026, with BioMed Realty fitting out 615,000 combined square feet for Takeda and a new group called 585 Arts, which will have responsibility for programming 30,000 publicly accessible square feet: a 400-seat theater (up from 300 to 350 in initial plans) and matching rehearsal space; a 150-seat stage in a lobby with year-round garden; and a commons around it that will include a bar, cafe and giant screen suitable for communal World Cup watch parties.

It’s where tech philanthropist Glenn KnicKrehm had been promising since the 1990s to build a grand concert hall called the Constellation Center. Ultimately he sold the fenced-off gravel pit to BioMed in 2018 for $50.5 million after construction estimates soared out of reach during decades of research into acoustics.

Remarks about the years of waiting were inevitable.

Takeda’s Julie Kim speaks Wednesday at the 585 Kendall groundbreaking. (Photo: Marc Levy)

“I walk to work in the morning across the Longfellow Bridge, turn a few corners [into Kendall Square] and I see these beautiful buildings, and it always brings a smile to my face,” said Julie Kim, head of U.S. operations for Takeda. “I cannot wait for the day when I turn the corner and 585 Kendall will also be there.” (Takeda’s intention to take the entire tower was announced July 1. It will mean, said its president of research and development Andy Plump, an end to the company being “fragmented” in office and lab space across the city.)

Iram Farooq, assistant city manager for community development, noted that the Third Street space was “one of the first projects that I worked on” – and she started in Cambridge in 1999. “Third Street was mostly blank and unbuilt at that time. And a key piece of our vision was to create a vibrant place in Kendall Square, a complete Third Street with active, walkable ground floors, a mix of housing, offices, shops and cultural activity, and a place where people could live, work, play, learn, create and innovate,” Farooq said.

Instead, Third Street and Kendall Square grew up around a block-sized vacant space. But the planners’ vision is finally coming true thanks to an “immense” partnership among BioMed, Takeda and the city, Farooq said. There was one more big player at the site: Eversource, owner of a prominent eyesore of a plant that must be moved for 585 Kendall to become a reality.

It was a test of that partnership “when in your path you have a gas transfer station that serves half of your city and and half of the city next door,” Farooq said.

Speeches, performances and shovels

State and local politicians and business and arts executives prepare for ceremonial groundbreaking photos on Wednesday. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Hundreds gathered in a BioMed atrium at 650 E. Kendall St. on Wednesday for speeches commemorating the moment and performances by the tap dancers Subject: Matter (in a resounding duet with saxophone), dance troupe Jean Appolon Expressions (which performed to thunderous drumming) and afro-pop musician Albino Mbie, a preview of the programming coming to 585 Arts via the nonprofit Global Arts Live.

At the end of the speeches, city councillors, company executives and others were asked to head out to the 35,865-square-foot lot at Kendall and Athenaeum streets for the traditional groundbreaking-ceremony photos with shovels and dirt – and, befitting the size of the project, it was a long procession. Eventually the groups merged again for music and bacon-wrapped scallops. 

Commitment to the arts

BioMed is committing more than $45 million to build and equip a state-of-the-art performing arts center, and Global Arts Live is conducting a $15 million campaign to launch and sustain the center’s operations, said Connie Chin, chief executive of Global Arts Live and 585 Arts.

She painted a picture of the results. “The ground-floor commons will be a public space welcoming all with pop-up activities, meetup and hangout spaces, food and beverage offerings and more. The beating heart will be the common stage, where you can look forward to informal performances, talks, sunset jazz, community events and participatory events,” Chin said, later adding that the space was expected to stay open until 1 a.m. Upstairs, the theater “will offer one of the biggest stages in Boston, where you will enjoy extraordinary art both local and international.”

Among those at the 585 Kendall reception Wednesday are, from left. Tom Evans of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, Geeta Pradhan of the Cambridge Community Foundation, Iram Farooq of Cambridge’s Community Development Department and Pardis Saffari, head of economic development for the city. (Photo: Marc Levy)

“We believe that equity begins with access and affordability, and performance, rehearsal and event space will be available at subsidized rates to artists and nonprofits, with some rentals every year offered free to the community. Our professional production staff will welcome local youth into our facilities with a robust mentoring program,” Chin said.

Peter DiMuro, executive artistic director of The Dance Complex in Central Square and already benefiting from BioMed’s commitment to the arts in the company-hosted Dance Complex@Kendall, said he was eager to get a production into the glass-box theater and perform in front of its “beautiful panorama.” He was excited at rehearsal space that was the same size as the stage – which itself will be bigger than most of Boston’s stages, including at the Emerson Paramount and Majestic and at the ICA – and credited BioMed as being true to its word on affordability. “It’s the first time rehearsal space” for The Dance Complex has been “offered at a noncommercial rate,” he said.

Though The Dance Complex has been close by over the past couple of years of development, its access to the space won’t be unique, said Chin, pointing to other organizations already active in the 585 Arts Advisory Circle. “We’re looking to partner a lot,” Chin said. “And we’re looking for everything,” including residencies in which artists can spend a week developing a project or offering a class.

Chin, Global Arts Live founder and director of artistic programs Maure Aronson and others meet with architects weekly “working on all details down to where we’re placing electrical outlets,” Chin said. “There’s a lot of this work looking forward to making this a theater suited for world-class touring artists, as well as world-class local artists.”