Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 13, 2014

MBTA Role in Cambridge Center Project – Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project, 1979-1989

MBTA Role in Jump-starting Development of the Cambridge Center Project
Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project, 1979-1989

By Thad Tercyak, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, Associate Director, 1968-1990

The purpose of this narrative is to provide additional information about the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority’s (CRA) Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project and to describe the role of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) in helping to jump-start development of the CRA’s Cambridge Center Project in 1979-1989, a major factor in helping to attract high-tech companies to locate in the East Cambridge industrial area. UMTA provided the MBTA with critical financial assistance made available under President Carter’s Urban Initiatives Program.

Kendall Urban Initiatives Project 1980
Urban Initiatives Project – 1980

To understand the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, it must be divided into two phases:

Phase 1. 1963-1979. The objective was to transform a 43-acre blighted urban industrial area into vacant land for construction of improvements.
Background. The Kendall Square Urban Redevelopment Project planning activities during Phase 1 included creating, initiating and financing the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project; preparing an urban renewal plan to accommodate development by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and, after NASA withdrew from the Project, preparing an entirely new plan for development by private developers; a painful, prolonged and laborious process because Cambridge was unprepared to carry out the difficult and complicated tasks involved in overhauling the original plan with an entirely new plan.

In 1965, when the City of Cambridge approved the CRA’s original Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, it anticipated that the Project would attract NASA-related private development to replace a blighted industrial area of old, deteriorated and underutilized buildings with a modern, attractive industrial area which would generate tax revenues and jobs. In 1970, when NASA withdrew from the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project and transferred its interests in the Kendall Square Project to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the feeling in Cambridge was that the project had been delivered a tremendous setback because it lost its major developer; a severe blow to the city’s efforts to expand its economic base.

The 1970-77 period involved two major activities:
(1) The execution of land preparation activities in order to transform a 43-acre industrial slum into vacant land for new construction. The activities required the acquisition of 70 parcels of land, relocation of the Broad Canal to an underground water system, relocation of nearly 100 businesses, demolition of 50 buildings, construction of infrastructure, and formation of new traffic patterns of circulation. Land preparation activities are the "nitty-gritty, heavy-lifting" period of the redevelopment process because most are messy, noisy, a public nuisance and a favorite subject of complaint.

(2) The resolution of planning issues in order to amend the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan to designate new reuses for the land. Activities included negotiations between the CRA, DOT, and the U.S. General Services Administration to retrieve the rights to develop 10 acres of vacant land left behind by NASA; and rejection by the Cambridge City Council of four redevelopment plans prepared by a task force comprised of representatives from a cross section of Cambridge organizations working with the CRA.

In 1976, the CRA engaged the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) advisory panel services to review the Kendall Square Project and propose ways to help break the multi-year planning deadlock. Among the "Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations" of the ULI panel:

• Only a few properties in the country have a broader array of locational advantages as the Kendall Square area and the opportunities associated with the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project: Cambridge Center is a unique opportunity area, one that should be reserved to maximize its locational advantages.

The MBTA’s Kendall Station subway is one of the more spectacular assets affecting the redevelopment potential of the CRA’s Cambridge Center project (emphasis added).

• Attracting developers will not be easy. Citizen concerns, political pressure, economic uncertainty, the absence of a united and strong development process, high taxes, environmental constraints, contentious political climate, and congested surface transportation have combined to create a credibility problem with the real estate development community relative to the City of Cambridge. With few exceptions, the lack of credibility has been a severe restraint to real estate development in Cambridge.

These development problems are such that all but the most determined developer, the one who perceives a very close relationship between locational advantages and development opportunities, will be deterred from coming into the community (emphasis added).

Engaging the ULI greatly helped to break the planning deadlock because the panel’s expertise gained the confidence of the Cambridge City Council and the CRA. The panel advised the CRA to make extraordinary efforts to impress potential developers by efficiently completing site preparations and all major pre-physical development activities. The CRA responded by removing legal and technical impediments to development by completing an Environmental Impact Statement; securing plan and zoning amendments; carrying out a $7-million public improvements program; and implementing traffic circulation plans, such as widening Binney Street to provide direct major access to Memorial Drive.

In 1977, Cambridge City Council approved a mixed-use development plan for the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project. For marketing purposes the name Cambridge Center was adopted to refer to the 24 acres in the Kendall Square Project Area separate from the land occupied by DOT. In 1978, the CRA invited proposals to develop Cambridge Center, and in 1979, selected Boston Properties as the initial developer.

Phase 2. 1980-Present. The objective was to sell the vacant land created during Phase 1 for private development.
The CRA and Boston Properties executed a Development Agreement which provided that the CRA would sell land to Boston Properties in stages after approval of development plans; and Boston Properties was required to start construction of an office building within seven months of signing the agreement.

Because of the disorderly events of the 1970’s, expectations regarding development of the CRA’s Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project were gloomy. Mortimer Zuckerman, one of the two Boston Properties principals, was aware of the difficulties: "It was a very bleak time when the Kennedy Space Center moved to Texas…There was just a lot of land there" (Woolhouse, "Making a High Tech Mecca", Boston Globe, June 26, 2011)".

The CRA realized that to overcome Cambridge’s credibility problem with the real estate community, it had to establish a reputation for being able to work efficiently and effectively with Boston Properties in stimulating private development of the Cambridge Center Project. The MBTA was about to provide the CRA with the opportunity to establish that reputation.

The MBTA operated three facilities in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project area: the Kendall subway station (Kendall Station), bus layover facilities, and a traction power substation. The Kendall Station was old (built in 1912), dilapidated, obsolete, with dimly lighted platforms. The traction power substation was considered to be obsolete and a blighting influence, and its 50′ high fire-damaged brick facade dominated the heavily travelled Main Street eastern entrance to the Kendall Square area.

The MBTA recognized that because of the improvements designated for the CRA’s Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, the MBTA facilities would have to be modernized. During the mid-1970’s, the MBTA and the CRA staffs met to coordinate plans regarding future reconstruction efforts. It was decided that reconstruction would be integrated with the CRA’s redevelopment activities, and the CRA’s Concept Design Plan for the Kendall Square Project would be used as the standard for urban design amenities.

By coincidence, Jimmy Carter was the U.S President from 1977 to 1981, and his Urban Policy plans included shifting the allocation of federal resources to favor urban areas. Priority was to be given to projects that leveraged the expenditure of federal funds and strong incentives would be awarded to projects engaged in efforts to attract private investments to urban areas. The effort would be called the President’s Urban Initiatives Program.

Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project
The MBTA determined that its Kendall Station met the qualifications to receive designation as a Urban Initiatives Project because it was already integrating its plans for modernizing the Kendall Station with the CRA’s plans for the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, and that the CRA had executed a Development Agreement with Boston Properties to attract private development and investments to the Cambridge Center Project. In its application to UMTA for project approval, the MBTA made the following points:

"The project’s financial assistance will be used to provide Kendall Station improvements in support of a major urban redevelopment effort and to stimulate private investments for urban improvements… The CRA has designated Boston Properties as developer for Cambridge Center and Boston Properties is expected to generate $150 million of private investment over the next 10 years and produce in excess of one-million square feet of office, hotel, retail, and open space. More immediately, Boston Properties is prepared to begin construction in October, 1979, of the first office building (13 stories) involving 250,000 square feet of space and costing approximately $20 million. This initial investment could be followed the next year with a second building of the same magnitude".

UMTA designated the Kendall Station project as an Urban Initiatives Project, agreeing that "the proposal has excellent characteristics for effectively achieving the President’s intentions in calling for an UMTA Urban Initiatives Program". The Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project involved the CRA, the MBTA, and Boston Properties. It included Parcel 4 of the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, a triangular 5-acre site bordered by Main Street, Broadway and Sixth Street around the Kendall Station.

Initially, because of budgetary constraints, the MBTA programmed construction of the Kendall Station improvements for the late-1980’s and called for only a modest renovation of the existing facilities and entrances; and the program for the traction power substation provided only for replacement of electrical equipment, with no provision for replacing and relocating the building. This schedule was of grave concern to the CRA because the Kendall Station, in its present antiquated condition, would have an adverse effect on the initial marketing efforts by Boston Properties to attract private development to the area.

At that time, Boston Properties marketing efforts highlighted the locational advantages of the Kendall Station: (1) The MIT campus was in the immediate neighborhood. (2) Two subway stops easterly from the Kendall Station was downtown Boston, and two subway stops westerly was Harvard University. (3) The MBTA public transit system provided access to virtually the entire Boston Metropolitan Area. (4) The Kendall Station was within easy walking distance of any location within the Cambridge Center Project area. The CRA believed that an efficient and timely transformation of the Kendall Station from old, dilapidated and obsolete to a modern, attractive, and well-designed subway station, and the simultaneous construction of buildings by Boston Properties and public improvements by the CRA could have a dramatic positive effect on Boston Properties’ marketing efforts. Also it could stimulate private development of the vacant land in the rest of Cambridge Center; and might influence the real estate community’s perception of Cambridge’s credibility.

The CRA requested (1) the MBTA reschedule construction of the Kendall Station to start during the early 1980’s, and the proposed station improvements be upgraded to match the CRA’s design standards; and (2) the traction power substation be replaced and relocated so that it could be subsumed within the private development occurring on-site. The MBTA was supportive, but because the MBTA system had operated at a loss during the past five years, it had determined that "no part of the costs associated with the Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project can be financed from MBTA revenue".

Designation of the Kendall Station modernization plans as an UMTA Urban Initiatives Project also qualified the MBTA for the maximum amount of Federal assistance, making it eligible to receive funding from UMTA. Accordingly, UMTA provided the critical financing the MBTA needed to reschedule construction of the Kendall Station to begin sooner, upgrade design standards, and relocate the new traction power substation.

Then a rare event took place in the City of Cambridge. Two public agencies – the CRA and the MBTA – and a private developer – Boston Properties – initiated meetings to discuss the funding, design and construction details of the Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project. They entered into a variety of formal and informal arrangements to cooperate in the planning and development around the Kendall Station. Their arrangements extended from land use planning and urban design to land acquisition and transfer policies, construction activities, and the maintenance of public and private improvements. For example:

• The Kendall Station modernization would include lengthening the subway platforms from four cars to six cars, relocating the stations entrances, and upgrading the stations interiors.

• The MBTA’s new traction power substation would be integrated with the improvements planned by the CRA and Boston Properties.

• The CRA’s design standards for the renewal area would be used to plan project improvements related to the Kendall Station reconstruction.

• The CRA was awarded a $5.1-million grant to provide transit-related improvements and urban design amenities, including street and sidewalk improvements, a bus contraflow lane, a Transit Plaza, an urban park at the gateway to the project, and pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhoods.

Urban Initiatives Project Area - 1980

Construction Coordination
A particularly difficult task was the coordination of simultaneous construction activities by the three entities in performing over- lapping construction work within tight, limited areas where the lines of responsibilities were difficult to draw. The parties devised a cost-sharing formula to determine how much of the total cost would be the responsibility of each party if the entire job was performed by a single contractor. A contractor would then be engaged and each party would pay its agreed-upon share of the total contractor cost. For example:

• The MBTA dug a huge excavation across Main Street and abutting vacant land. The excavation was for the expansion and renovation of the Kendall Station (to be constructed by the MBTA); and for an area to provide services to the buildings on Parcel 4 (to be built by Boston Properties). The building service area was to be located under a Transit Plaza (to be built by the CRA) so that it would be out-of-sight.

• The new northerly entrance to the subway (to be built by the MBTA) would abut the Transit Plaza (to be built by the CRA) and include an extended canopy from the wall of an office building (to be built by Boston Properties). The canopy would provide the MBTA patrons with a covered walkway and direct access to a food court (to be built by Boston Properties).

• The three parties collaborated on the location and design of the new traction power substation (to be built by the MBTA) so that a 12-story office building (to be built by Boston Properties) could be constructed on air rights over it.

• As construction was completed by the MBTA and Boston Properties, the CRA was to construct public improvements in the abutting public ways.

The redevelopment of Parcel 4 was a team effort by the CRA, the MBTA, and Boston Properties. The renovations by the MBTA in modernizing the Kendall Station, and by the CRA in constructing public improvements and urban design amenities, created an environment to reinforce Boston Properties’ marketing efforts to attract highly-qualified companies to locate in the Cambridge Center Project.

Kendall Station - Urban Initiatives Project - 1985
Urban Initiatives Project – 1985

Urban Initiatives Project Area - 1985
Urban Initiatives Project Area – 1985
Construction Coordination

Urban Initiatives Project Area - 1989
Urban Initiatives Project Area – 1989

Transit Plaza contributions
The Transit Plaza, named Nowiszewski Plaza, abutted the Kendall Station’s exit/access, and was surrounded by active uses. It included a multicolored paving pattern, and a 75-foot sculptured tower, which also served as an emergency exit for the hotel, ventilation for the building service area under the Plaza, and amphitheater seating. Boston Properties funded the tower and the gold-leaf octahedron adorning its top, and was obliged to operate, maintain, and repair the Transit Plaza.

(NOTE: The Transit Plaza was subsequently modified.)

Urban Initiatives Project - 1989
Urban Initiatives Project – 1989

Pedestrian Circulation
Efforts were made to facilitate pedestrian circulation and activities: 5 Cambridge Center contained Legal Seafood restaurant; 3 Cambridge Center had a food court and MIT Coop store; and 2 Cambridge Center, a hotel abutting the Transit Plaza, had a restaurant, bar, and a public easement through the hotel lobby connecting to a pedestrian way to the surrounding area. The Transit Plaza provided exit/access for the subway, outdoor use of tables and chairs, amphitheater seating, and occasional entertainment programs, fairs and informal performances by free-lancers. Directly east of 1 Cambridge Center was an urban park, "Galaxy at Murphy Park". Also, Boston Properties constructed an elevator-accessible 1-acre public park on the roof of a parking garage. (Note: The garage roof was subsequently modified.)

"Galaxy at Murphy Park"
The eastern gateway to the Kendall Square area at the intersection of Main Street and Broadway, was a triangular site used to construct "Galaxy at Murphy Park". Galaxy was conceived through the successful collaborative efforts of the CRA and the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

The CRA considered Galaxy to be one of the most attractive features of Cambridge Center.

The centerpiece of Galaxy was an environmental structure which featured a 5-foot-in-diameter "earthsphere" placed in a fountain. Water spray – during the warm months – , or steam – during the cold months – enveloped the sphere to create the appearance of "floating" on clouds. Surrounding the fountain were 12" moon-globes which were perforated in individual patterns. At nighttime, the globes were illuminated from within and its shadows cast light and patterns on the pavement around the globes; and when steam from the earthsphere passed over the globes, rays of light were visible coming through the perforations. Surrounding the fountain were benches for sitting; two rows of trees and shrubs; and grassy open spaces.

Boston Properties was responsible for operating, maintaining and repairing "Galaxy".

Urban Initiatives Project 1989
Urban Initiatives Project 1989

Urban Initiatives Project 1989

National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO)
In 1990, NAHRO’s Annual Agency Awards of Excellence in Housing and Community Development chose the Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project for its Administrative Innovation Award. "The Kendall Square Project showed excellent coordination of public and private funding, as well as excellent planning and team work by three major agencies over the 10-year development period. A joint development carried out among two public agencies, the CRA and the MBTA, and a private developer, Boston Properties".

Although the project was complex, the objectives of the Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project were achieved:

• The MBTA modernized and expanded the Kendall Station by relocating station entrances, lengthening the station platforms, and renovating the station’s interiors; and constructed a new traction power substation to replace the old, outmoded one.

• Boston Properties marketing operations attracted qualified competent companies to locate within the Urban Initiatives Project area, resulting in the construction of 1.1-million square feet of mixed-used development, including two 12- to 13- story retail, office buildings; a 13-story office building constructed on air rights over the MBTA traction power substation; a 25-story hotel; a 4-story retail, office building; and a 863-car garage with a one-acre open space roof–top garden.

• The CRA constructed public improvements throughout the area: streets and sidewalks, landscaping, Transit Plaza, Galaxy park, and pedestrian walkways.

• UMTA provided the critical financing the MBTA needed to reschedule and upgrade its Kendall Station facilities. UMTA considered the Kendall Station Project to be a successful Urban Initiatives Project because it attracted private investments to the Cambridge urban area, and "a model for other cities on the positive impact that transit accessibility can have on community development".

• The joint public-private cooperative effort helped to create an environment that supported Boston Properties’ marketing operations and provided a jump-start to generate momentum to develop Parcel 4.

In 1979, when the MBTA submitted its application for Kendall Station designation as an Urban Initiatives Project, the CRA’s expectations were that the Cambridge Center Project would be completed in about ten years and produce 1.7-million square feet of mixed-use development and generate $200-million of private investments. Thirty years later, the Cambridge Center Project is in its last phase, and upon completion is projected to have produced 3-million square feet of mixed-uses, and generated about $1-billion of private investments, $15-million of property tax revenues and about 6,000 jobs.

The joint public-private team enterprise in the successful redevelopment of Parcel 4 was a factor in the real estate development community’s apparent re-evaluation of its skepticism about the development climate in the City of Cambridge. Starting in the 1980’s, private investments were made to develop the rest of the Cambridge Center Project, and subsequently a flood of development occurred in the East Cambridge industrial area.


P.S.: Robert F. Rowland was the CRA Executive Director in the 1970’s when planning to integrate the CRA’s and MBTA’s urban redevelopment operations in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project were initiated, and which resulted in the designation of the Kendall Station as an Urban Initiatives Project.

Thad J. Tercyak Professional Resume
1610 N Pebble Beach Blvd., Sun City Center, FL 33573; Phone (813) 633-5746 (Nov-May)
108 Alden Village Ct., Cary, NC 27519; Phone (919) 460-4526 (June-Oct)
E-Mail: tedtercyak AT cs DOT com

Professional Employment
Cambridge Redevelopment Authority: Associate Director, 1968-1990.
Boston Redevelopment Authority: Project Director, Washington Park and South End urban renewal projects; 1961-1968.
Cuyahoga County Planning Authority (Cleveland, Ohio): Economist, 1957-1960.
Connecticut Development Commission (Adams, Howard & Greeley, City Planning Consultants): Economist, 1956-1957.

University of Pittsburgh: Master’s Degree, Public Administration, 1961.
University of Connecticut: Master’s Degree, Economics, 1956.
Boston University Metropolitan College: Part-time Instructor, Urban Renewal, 1975-6.


Cambridge Civic Journal:
"Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project: Six Pivotal Episodes"; June, 2013.
"Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, Initial Years, 1963 to 1982"; July, 2012.

Urban Land Institute:
"Joint Development at Kendall Square"; April, 1991.
"Marketing Public Land"; February, 1986.
"Cambridge Center Project Design"; April, 1985.
"Panel Revisits: Cambridge Center: Downtown Redevelopment"; February, 1985.

Journal of Housing:
"Project Design: A Cooperative Effort"; September/October, 1984.
"Kendall Square: An Urban Renewal Success"; September/October, 1982.

Urban Land Institute (ULI) , Advisory Services Panelist:
An Evaluation of the Development Potential and Revitalization Strategy for the Silver Triangle Site, Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, 1992.
An Evaluation of Kennedy and LaGuardia Airport Access for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the City of New York, 1991

Professional Resume, summary
Mr. Tercyak’s professional background includes Master’s degrees in Economics and Public Administration; 22 years as Associate Director of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority; 7 years as project director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Washington Park and South End urban renewal projects; 5 years as an economist with city and county planning agencies; and Urban Land Institute advisory services panelist evaluating potential development projects for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and for downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. Several articles published in the Cambridge Civic Journal, Urban Land Institute Magazine and Journal of Housing. Part-time instructor, Community Development, Boston University Metropolitan College.


  1. spectacular, thank you.

    Comment by PatrickBarrett — February 13, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

  2. A fantastic history and a must-read for anyone interested in Cambridge planning.

    Thanks to Mr. Tercyak (and Rowland and Winters).

    Comment by Tom Stohlman — February 14, 2014 @ 7:47 am

  3. Great story and pictures. Brings me back to the days when I used to pack parcel post at the Kendall Sq. P.O. Also delivered mail to a lot of companies that existed on those empty lots during the summers at same P.O. I rambler Better Homes, Carter’s Ink, American Biltrite, Fenton Shoe and lots of other places. It is the place where I learned about all the small town names up in Maine and N.Y. amongst other places. Thanks. What a change in over 50 years.

    Comment by Bob Richards — February 14, 2014 @ 10:09 am

  4. Interesting story.

    Although some people complain that there is too much of this or too little of that, this project gave a tremendous boost to the City – generating lots of tax revenue which have enabled lower residential tax rates and lot of money for the city to spend on other things such as schools, library, police, and causes more people to come to the city to patronize businesses, etc. And it set the stage for the continuing development in the area. The stats that I read show that all this commercial development has not increased traffic because so many of the employees come to work by car, foot, or public transportation. Who would have thought the long term consequences of MIT’s move to Cambridge in 1916?

    Comment by John Gintell — February 15, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

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