Harvard University unveiled a sweeping plan yesterday to transform a 250-acre swath of Boston into an expanse of academic facilities, student housing, and a new public square with a plaza, retail stores, theaters, and an art museum.
The university's 50-year master plan for Allston, submitted to Boston planning officials yesterday, also calls for building a pedestrian bridge across the Charles River and putting 800 feet of Soldiers Field Road underground to keep traffic out of view and to create tree-lined promenades along the river.
Officials said the project is likely to cost several billion dollars, and they hope to begin construction by the end of the year of the first buildings, a major science complex and a museum that would house collections now at Harvard's Fogg and Sackler museums.
"There are a lot of big ideas that we wanted to put in this master plan," said Kathy Spiegelman, chief planner for the university's Allston expansion.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino praised the plan yesterday, saying that over the next 20 years, Harvard will provide thousands of jobs and become "a major presence in our city." But some state officials and neighborhood groups are already opposing the plan, saying it would decrease public access to the river and alter the character of the tight-knit, working-class residential area abutting Harvard's property in Allston.
"The compatibility issue is really the main problem," said Ray Mellone, chairman of the Allston community task force on the Harvard expansion, referring to fears that traffic and bustle would invade the neighborhood.
Harvard officials say that they are working on ways to mitigate the university's impact on Allston neighborhoods and that they hope to work with residents to find solutions over the next few months as the master plan undergoes formal review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
"The success of this plan is that Harvard finds a way to meet its core objectives in a way that generates mutual benefits for the neighborhood of Allston and the city of Boston," Spiegelman said.
A central element of the master plan is a "major urban space" similar to Harvard Square in Cambridge. Barry's Corner, around the intersection of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue, would be transformed, with the addition of a large plaza flanked by retail shops, outdoor cafes, and entertainment venues. "It will be urban, active, and, when all the facilities are completed, a bustling scene," the plan says.
Student housing would be sprinkled along the Charles, and athletic fields and Harvard academic buildings will fill out the area.
The university's graduate schools of public health and education would move into the new area, already home to Harvard Business School and university athletic facilities. When the first 20-year phase of the project is finished, officials said, it will include between 4 million and 5 million square feet of building space and produce 5,000 new jobs.
The second phase includes another 400,000 square feet of student housing along the river and 3.7 million square feet of academic buildings, including 2 million square feet for science.
The project will be financed with a mix of university funding, donations, and grants, said Harvard provost Steven E. Hyman, who added that he did not expect funding to come from tuition increases.
The master plan, he said, does not assume significant growth in the student body, currently at approximately 19,500, though there may be some additional graduate students.
A BRA review process will include a series of public meetings, beginning Jan. 24. If the master plan is approved by the BRA, it will provide a vision for development of the area for the next half century.
But Harvard would still need city approval for individual buildings as it conceives them. Those projects would face another round of reviews by the city and be subjected to community input before they could be built.
The university will also need approval from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the land along the river, and from the state Historical Commission to put Soldier's Field Road underground and for other construction along the Charles River.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who chairs the Historical Commission, said the university's plans to submerge the roadway and build a pedestrian bridge over the Charles appear mainly to benefit the university and not members of the community.
"Clearly, the university is treating the river like some moat that they own," Galvin said. "It is not theirs, and it will be protected."
University officials stressed last night that the master plan is strictly a proposal, subject to change as discussions with the community and government officials unfold. They compared the proposed green space over the river road to the Esplanade, a space for the public to enjoy just as much as the university community.
"We're not presuming we can do all this," said Christopher M. Gordon, chief operating officer for Harvard's Allston Development Group, which is managing the expansion.
"We want to make sure we work with everybody."
Matthew Viser of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.