District Hall celebrates launch as innovation hub and watering hole

District Hall is officially open. Almost.

The extended kickoff continues Thursday with a party to christen the new $7 million facility, whose coffee shop, restaurant, and meeting and event space are designed to make it the centerpiece of Boston’s Innovation District.

Didn’t we already have a big party at District Hall three weeks ago? Yup.

And wasn’t it already hosting events two weeks before that? Uh huh.

This shin dig, however, is the real deal. Except that District Hall technically begins full operations next month.

It’s hard to resist poking fun at the long launch, but it’s also hard to deny that the place is cool. Reporters and other invited guests got a preview Wednesday night (yes, another one), and I think most of us could easily envision the 12,000-square-foot, industrial chic building fulfilling its mission to be a shared resource for the city’s innovation community.


In some ways, the communal vibe resembles the feel of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which makes sense since Mayor Thomas M. Menino tapped CIC founder Tim Rowe to start District Hall. The CIC’s nonprofit arm, the Venture Café Foundation, will run day-to-day business with executive director Carlos Martinez-Vela leading the way.

But unlike the Cambridge Innovation Center, which hundreds of startups call home base, District Hall will have no permanent residents, besides Gather, the restaurant, and Brew, the coffee shop, which also serves beer and wine. Both are owned by The Briar Group of Brighton, and the tasty hors d’oeuvres their kitchen put out Wednesday suggest they could become hot spots in no time.

Instead, the city will make District Hall available to local businesses, schools and civic groups in need of space for meetings and special events. Martinez-Vela told me rental fees will be adjusted according to a group’s means, with the aim of making the building accessible to everyone.

“If you’re a big company and we know you can pay, of course we’re going to ask you to pay,’’ he explained. “But if you have no money, we’ll work something out. The idea is to have the top 30 percent underwrite the other 70 percent.’’


The city can afford to be so generous because its own lease on the building is just $1 per year, thanks to an agreement with developer Boston Global Investors, which built District Hall as part of a 23-acre Seaport Square construction project that will add 6.3 million square feet of office, residential, and retail space to the formerly desolate waterfront.

So the price is right, but organizations hoping to use District Hall should think about booking fast. Martinez-Vela said the facility is already getting requests for holiday parties.

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