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Harvard wins BRA’s approval for innovation lab in Allston

By Matt Rocheleau
Globe Correspondent / March 12, 2011

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The Boston Redevelopment Authority has approved Harvard University’s $20-million plan to convert an Allston building into an innovation and entrepreneurship laboratory.

Construction at the Western Avenue site that formerly housed WGBH-TV is set to begin in the coming weeks, the city said. Harvard aims to open the laboratory in September.

The 78,000-square-foot Harvard Innovation Lab will be “a new and innovative initiative that will foster team-based and entrepreneurial activities, and deepen interactions among students, faculty, entrepreneurs, and the community,’’ Harvard said.

BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree said Mayor Thomas M. Menino had encouraged the university to pursue the project as a way to give something of direct use to the neighborhood.

“The thinking was: How can we make sure that Harvard gives back to the Allston community and the city, too,’’ she said.

The building will house public areas, meeting rooms, and business development resources for the community, along with student academic space, the university said.

The facility will host presentations and lectures, officials said. Organizations will deliver workshops that invite direct participation, individual coaching, and business advisory services.

The university said it expects offerings, accessible to Harvard and neighbors, to grow and improve over time.

Gabe Handel, managing director of the dean’s office of Harvard’s Business School, said the iLab will be “part of the university’s efforts to enliven Western Avenue.’’

In late 2009, the university halted work on a $1.4 billion science facility in Allston, straining relations with residents, after the recession delivered a major blow to Harvard’s investments. That project remains stalled.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.