Real estate

Little agreement over the fate of East Cambridge’s hideous tower

Developer’s vision for 40 Thorndike St.
Developer’s vision for 40 Thorndike St.Leggat McCall

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The old Middlesex County courthouse is an unpolished diamond that can be transformed into a gleaming outpost for the booming technology community in nearby Kendall Square that is spreading into East Cambridge.

The old Middlesex County courthouse is a towering eyesore that once again threatens to violate a quaint residential neighborhood of modest homes and workers cottages.

That’s the crux of a raging debate in Cambridge as a developer picked by the state moves forward with plans to overhaul one of the most visible buildings on the outskirts of Boston’s skyline. Although the two courts once housed there are gone, about 200 prisoners remain on the upper floors of the 22-story structure, in the Middlesex Jail.

Leggat McCall Properties is seeking approval to turn the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse at 40 Thorndike St. into a home for high-tech offices, along with additional retail and residential space — a project estimated to cost more than $200 million. The developer would replace most of the gray facade with glass and wants to improve the forbidding ground-level space by adding a pocket park and more pedestrian access around the building.

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