Harvard and Cambridge. Inevitably, since the "Colledge at Cambridge" was founded, the name of one has evoked the other. So when Harvard presented the winning--and only--bid of $151,751,636 for a 48-acre parcel of land south of Western Avenue in Allston, the Boston community just across the Charles River, a kind of history was made. Harvard now owns more land in Allston than in Cambridge.
Much of the new parcel is encumbered with a combination of long-term leases and permanent easements that made the property desirable only to bidders with a long-term development perspective. Current tenant Genzyme Corporation, for example, holds a lease that runs until 2057 on the land under its Soldiers Field Road plant; the company bid $25 million for that land and an adjacent, unencumbered portion--a total of 9.9 acres. But Harvard's bid for the entire Allston Landing North parcel took precedence, said the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA), which oversees the "Big Dig" in downtown Boston and needed to raise as much cash as possible for that massive highway-tunnel project.
In the weeks prior to the sale, Boston University, hemmed in like Harvard and also seeking ways to expand, was identified as a potential rival bidder for the property. Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey, AMP '94, questioned whether Harvard would have an unfair advantage in the land auction because the University had put up $500,000 to allow the MTA to pay for necessary pre-bid work. Bailey reported that "both university and turnpike insist that gave Harvard no advantage."
In the end, the question was moot. Paul Grogan, Harvard's vice president for government, community, and public affairs, told the Globe that BU instead contacted Harvard before the sale and asked for an option to purchase a 10-acre section of the parcel, separated from the rest of the land by the turnpike, that lies closest to the BU campus. Harvard agreed to the option, and then bid more than $3 million per acre for the entire parcel, twice some estimates of the market value of the site, according to the Boston Herald.
The purchase was a triumph for Harvard, which has few other options for expansion. After adding the new parcel to the 52 acres secretly purchased in Allston beginning in the late 1980s, the existing athletic complex, and the business and medical school sites, the University now owns 268 acres in Boston (not including the Arnold Arboretum)--240 of them in Allston--compared to 220 acres in Cambridge (see "South by North Harvard," September-October 1999, page 67). President Neil L. Rudenstine called the acquisition a "tremendous opportunity in the long term to help the University fulfill its broad and challenging academic mission." Said vice president for administration Sally Zeckhauser, "This property enables the University to think more flexibly about its future and, when added to the land Harvard already owns in the area, should allow for a broad range of activities, much like the Cambridge campus."