MITIMCo Petition Goes Forward Without Faculty Assessment: Places Commercial Real Estate Before Housing and Research Needs
As of this writing MITIMCo (MIT Investment Management Company) has made two presentations of its revised up-zoning petition for the east end of the campus, one to the Cambridge Planning Board on January 15, and the other to the Ordinance Committee of the Cambridge City Council on January 24. This explicit plan for major commercial construction on the MIT campus has never been presented, discussed or debated at a regular meeting of the MIT faculty.
The up-zoning petition for 26 acres of campus land is dominated by new construction of two very large commercial office buildings filling the open area between Main Street and Amherst Street, and a 300-foot tower with market rate residences across Main Street and Broadway, at the One Broadway site (NE corner of Broadway and 3rd Street).
Of these more than 900,000 square feet of new construction, none is explicitly earmarked for graduate housing, postdoctoral or junior faculty housing, or instructional, research, or other academic needs. We are disappointed that MITIMCo has still failed to provide accurate images of their 3-D model to the faculty, and has not notified faculty of the public presentations.
Among the main positive impacts of the up-zoning petition would be an increased flow of rental/lease income to the MIT Corporation, estimated to be in the range of $20-$30 M/year, and increased street level landscaping.
Impacts that we view as negative include: a) Lack of housing to address the needs of some of the 4,000 graduate students forced to find housing off campus; b) increased pressure on those graduate students with respect to housing due to the influx of office workers housed in the new buildings; c) increased traffic in the area without any increase in street or T capacity; and d) loss of campus space and diminution of campus character and integrity as a leading academic institution, as the area is integrated into the Kendall Square commercial complex, as proposed by MITIMCo. These office structures will contrast negatively with the lower skyline of the MIT campus, shadowing nearby buildings and partially blocking the sky from the Koch/Biology/Stata quadrangle and Medical Center and Media Lab plazas. Though MITIMCo has focused on the benefits to the Kendall Square community, we feel that these commercial towers will undermine rather than enhance MIT as a university community.
No analysis has been presented of how the rental income might compensate for the loss of productivity as thousands of graduate students continue to commute, probably from longer distances, rather than being on or near site. As rents in the area increase – more than 7% last year – graduate students are being forced to live farther and farther from campus or suffer a decreased standard of living. The pressure on graduate student housing has been clearly articulated by the students themselves, and this information filters out to those prospective students who come for interviews. To what extent will continuing to ignore graduate student needs increase the difficulty in recruiting the best students, compared to campuses like Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and Rockefeller? These institutions provide for a larger fraction of graduate student housing needs and have recently added significant graduate student housing on their campuses.
For those of us who have seen the MITIMCo model, it is clear why the administration has not yet acceded to a full presentation at a faculty meeting. The proposed commercial buildings are too large and too tall; they dwarf and shadow other campus buildings, undermining the integrity of this area of the campus.
The proposed office buildings largely reflect MITIMCo’s interest in maximizing rental income stream.
The rental sums are small compared with MIT’s overall R&D budget (see M.I.T. Numbers). With 40-60-year leases, similar to the ones negotiated with Pfizer and Novartis, the ability to regain this valuable campus space will be sharply limited. The MITIMCo model appears to us to undervalue MIT’s future research and instructional needs. For example, the model does not account for the opportunity costs of losing future federal and industrial grants, owing to the lack of research space and/or instructional space.
MIT faculty and graduate students are among the most important stakeholders in decisions on the development of our campus. To be excluded from examining and debating the proposal presented to the City undermines the faculty and graduate students’ ability to fulfill their responsibilities as core members of the MIT community. We appreciate the work of the Provost’s Task Force on Community Engagement in 2030 Planning on Development of MIT-Owned Property in Kendall Square. However, we note sadly than no significant “community engagement” process has been set in place. The 12-18 month housing needs assessment described by MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz at that January 15 City of Cambridge Planning Board meeting will only yield feedback after construction decisions have been made.
The Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) currently reviews the agenda of faculty meetings. The FPC should insist that the MITIMCo petition be presented at a formal meeting of the faculty, with circulation of the details to all faculty, including financial expectations, in advance. Equal time needs to be provided for analysis, critiques, and alternative proposals at the meeting(s).