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City approves $20M Harvard Innovation Lab project in Allston

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  March 11, 2011 11:36 AM

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hvinnovationlab.jpg

(Courtesy: Boston Redevelopment Authority)

A sketch of the future Harvard Innovation lab at 125 Western Ave.

Boston's redevelopment authority has approved Harvard University’s $20-million plan to convert an Allston building into a laboratory for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Construction at the vacant Western Avenue site, formerly home to WGBH-TV, is set to begin in the next few weeks, the city said. The Harvard Innovation Lab anticipates opening around September, in time for the fall semester and just less than one year after plans were announced.

The 78,000 square-foot 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 in a statement.

The building will house public areas, meeting rooms and business development resources for the local community, along with student academic space bringing together varying schools at the university, including business, arts and science, law, government and engineering, according to the university.

Programs held at the building will be accessible to neighbors and local businesses along with Harvard students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

"Boston is experiencing an ongoing economic recovery with improvement in the office market, strong retail sales, and tremendous gains in residential real estate," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a statement today. "But even with this progress, we must not relent in our efforts to create jobs, encourage private investment and grow the tax base of our city and last night, several very important projects [including a downtown apartment tower] like The iLab at Harvard took great steps forward in helping us to achieve that goal and keep Boston moving forward into the 21st century."

The mayor spoke at the October news conference announcing the plans. City redevelopment spokeswoman Susan Elsbree said today he had encouraged the university on this 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 facility will host presentations and lectures, officials said. Organizations, including several that assist small businesses, will deliver workshops that invite direct participation, as well as one-on-one coaching and business advisory services.

The university said it expects program offerings to grow and improve as their effectiveness is assessed new opportunities are identified.

The school said it will provide a "robust transportation program" between the iLab and Harvard Square for students from both the Cambridge and Longwood campuses.

“The Innovation Lab is an entirely new model for Harvard," said Gabe Handel, managing director of the Business School dean’s office. "It is an innovation in and of itself. We're delighted by the unanimous support of the BRA board and the many community members who have expressed their enthusiasm for this project, which will also be part of the university's efforts to enliven Western Avenue,”

When the lab’s plans were announced, Nitin Nohria, the university business school dean told the Globe the old WGBH building was "in a state of actually extraordinary disrepair. The roof is gone. The building has been vandalized."

The innovation lab was announced in conjunction with plans for Harvard to build a $90-million to $100-million executive education center on a vacant site on the business school’s campus off Soldiers Field Road.

That facility is expected to be complete by fall 2013, officials said previously. It will be named Tata Hall. The project received a $50 million gift from Tata Group, a India-based technology and manufacturing conglomerate. The gift is the largest the university’s business school has ever received from a foreign donor.

Last year, the university halted construction of a $1.4 billion science facility in Allston, subsequently causing strained relations with neighborhood residents, after the plummeting stock market ravaged the value of Harvard's investments.

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

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