Thursday, January 12, 2017

Foundry Building update: add another two years (at least)

Efforts to revitalize the Foundry Building in East Cambridge appear to be back at square one. Cambridge Redevelopment Authority executive director Tom Evans announced at last night's CRA board meeting that he is considering a whole new strategy after his initial attempt met strong opposition in the City Council last fall. 

That attempt encouraged private developers to generate ideas on refurbishing, maintaining and programming the hundred-plus-year-old structure in a cost neutral way. The process ran into immediate challenges when only one of the original five teams actually submitted a proposal. That was the Cambridge Innovation Center group in conjunction with Graffito SP and Hacin Associates.

While the CIC team worked hard to calculate the cost of the structural work that allowed a tenant mix the community could support, in the end the Innovation Center team failed to win city councillors' approval. The building needed too much expensive repair work.

Last night, Director Evans in as much acknowledged this as a reality, and said he is considering an approach involving greater city investment that decouples construction costs from operation and programming costs. He has already started down this road by hiring HMFH Architects to reexamine the Foundry to document all of the building's structural demands.

Regardless, last night's meeting convinced audience members that the process has just added another 18 months to three years. While it's pointless to try to assign fault for the long delays in getting this off the ground, CRA board president and former city councillor Kathy Born expressed a Zen-like patience when she calmly observed that the main library took about 20 years to complete but produced a jewel of a building in the center of Cambridge. The community can only hope that the Foundry's long, arduous and on-going experience will produce an equally valuable result.