New Business Association Looks to the Future of Kendall Square, “The Product Cambridge Offers to the World”

Companies, merchants, and residents in the Kendall Square neighborhood of Cambridge banded together last week to form the Kendall Square Association, a non-profit group whose mission, according to its new president Tim Rowe, is to “improve, protect, and promote” the technology-saturated neighborhood. After several months of informal discussions, representatives from dozens of area organizations, including Xconomy, met at Genzyme Center on February 24 to formally incorporate the association and elect board members and officers.

With funding from member organizations, the association expects to take on both short-term issues such as repairing sidewalks and setting up a free Wi-Fi network and longer-term challenges such as optimizing transportation patterns, improving the mix of retail outlets, eateries, and entertainment venues in the area, and developing a 20-year plan for the neighborhood’s growth.

While there have been previous efforts to organize local businesses to promote the Kendall Square area—notably the Kendall Square Manufacturing Association, which was formed in the 1920s and later morphed into the current-day Cambridge Chamber of Commerce—Rowe says there has been no active group representing the area’s interests since a group called Kendall Square Business Association, founded in the 1970s, petered out more than a decade ago. Given the area’s rapid transformation over the past few years, including the addition of multiple office and laboratory buildings and the impending construction of a huge biotech park on the neighborhood’s northern edge, it was time for stakeholders to start talking about how to guide the area’s future, Rowe said in an interview last week.

“We are in a world now where there is a lot of interest in civic engagement,” Rowe says. “The time seemed to be right; there was a need that was growing, a rising tide that crested the dike.”

Rowe is well known around Kendall Square as the founder and CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which rents space to more than 170 small and medium-sized technology companies at One Broadway. He’s also a partner at New Atlantic Ventures, an infotech-focused venture fund based in Cambridge and Reston, VA.

He says part of the impetus behind forming the group came from watching other organizations successfully promote their own neighborhoods in Cambridge—especially the Harvard Square Business Association, which has helped bring more attractive development and more cultural events (not to mention free Wi-Fi coverage) to the area around the Harvard campus.

But the idea isn’t to put Kendall Square in competition with Harvard Square or other local neighborhoods, Rowe says. If anything, it’s to underscore Kendall Square’s attractions compared to locations on the West Coast.

“The real competition is Palo Alto,” says Rowe. “I talk to a lot of startups trying to decide between two destinations, and it’s not Kendall Square or Harvard Square, it’s Kendall Square or Palo Alto. But the fact that both Google and Microsoft set up major offices in Kendall Square in the last few years is a big win for this area. It’s jobs we’ve brought in, and we want to have more of that.”

In fact, Kendall Square—which the association defines as the area within a 10-minute walking radius of the Kendall Square subway station—has benefited from massive investment and lightning-fast growth, compared to most other areas of Massachusetts. But that growth has been mostly … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “New Business Association Looks to the Future of Kendall Square, “The Product Cambridge Offers to the World””

  1. As one of the new Kendall Square Association’s founding members, Twining Properties is excited to finally see the diverse interests of Kendall Square come together with a common forum to address issues and define plan for the future. As the owner and developer of Watermark Cambridge we were the first company to make a big bet on people wanting to live here. We built high quality residences and our belief is Kendall Square will grow to become one of the most vibrant mixed use communities in the Boston region. The next area needing attention is retail. Kendall Square is dramatically underserved by restaurants and retail given the number of people who live and work in the area. Kendall Square also suffers from an identity problem. It is difficult to find by car and confusing getting around, because the main traffic artery crossing the Longfellow bridge was caused to veer right years ago instead of going straight and connecting to Massachusetts Avenue. This means people don’t really understand how to find Kendall Square.

  2. Tim RoweTim Rowe says:

    Thank you for taking the time to cover the KSA, Wade.

    I’m hopeful that some of the projects proposed by the members of the various working groups in the KSA, such as bringing in more restaurants and other necessities such as a pharmacy, exploring whether it would be possible to have WiFi throughout the square, engaging on the State’s plans for the Longfellow Bridge and so forth will have a positive impact on the area.

    I want to ensure that your readers properly recognize the efforts of a number of individuals and groups that have been actively working on behalf of Kendall Square for years.

    While its mission is Cambridge-wide, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has ably supported this area since the 1920s. My company has been a member for 10 years, my co-founder at CIC served on its Board, and I have seen it grow and thrive over the years, particularly under Kelly Thompson-Clark’s leadership as Executive Director. Kelly is also the Chair of the statewide association of Chambers of Commerce, and the CCC is seen as a model. Working with Kelly is Terry Smith, who runs the CCC’s government affairs arm. It is unusual for a chamber to have someone as experienced as Terry in that role, and I have watched him in numerous public fora professionally and articulately represent businesses across Cambridge, including those Kendall Square. While the KSA and CCC are of course formally separate organizations, with the KSA specifically focused on Kendall Square local issues, if you look behind the covers, many of those active in the one are also active in the other, the two are collaborating closely, and I think will complement each other well.

    There is also a group known as the Kendall Community Group that has been active for many years. The KCG has a charitable function, bringing together several of the larger businesses in Kendall Square to support several important local social-service organizations, including the Margaret Fuller House, Tutoring Plus, and the Cambridge Arts Center. Again, many of the same people are active in both organizations.

    In addition, I want to recognize the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. The CRA is a state-level governmental body, based in Kendall Square, that was created several decades ago to tackle the massive job of taking the once derelict industrial areas to the north of MIT and to transform them into a booming metropolis. I have seen many governmental bodies over the years tasked with creating a booming metropolis in one or another place, and few can claim to have actually done it. The CRA has been ably managed by Joe Tulimieri for most of its history, and Joe and his many relationships have been instrumental in helping form the KSA.

    There are a large number of individuals who have been very active in growing and nurturing the KSA over the past months. Steve Vinter from Google and Sara Spalding at Microsoft are notable in that they are the heads of their respective companies’ local offices here in Cambridge, managing large organizations, and yet they have found the time to dig in personally to a dramatic degree. Steve, along with Kevin Sheehan at Boston Properties, wrote the Bylaws, and has taken agreed to be the new organization’s Secretary, and Sara has taken the helm of the Networking & Social Activities working group, which I believe is the largest working group in the organization, and which is looking to put together events, mixers, and online mechanisms for all of us to get to know one another better.

    One of the prime movers behind the idea for the KSA is Jim Kappel, manager of the Cambridge Marriott. Jim has a clear sense of community, and has been active source of encouragement for all of us to get together and act to form a local association.

    Leading local figures in the real estate development community, notably Bryan Koop and Mike Cantalupa from Boston Properties, Tom Andrews and Joe Maguire from Alexandria, Bill Gartner and Sam DeLiddo from Biomed, and Bryan Dacey from Twining, have all made significant contributions.

    Bryan Dacey, leveraging his experience as the former Chairman of Morgan-Memorial Goodwill, took on the onerous task, for instance, of putting together the slate of candidates for the Board and Officers.

    Sam DeLiddo has co-led the Long Term Vision working group, along with Skip Hartwell from Akamai. Also in this group is Mike Owu from MIT’s Investment Management Company, which manages much of MIT’s real estate portfolio in Kendall Square. Mike can be credited with first proposing that a key goal be developing a “20 year plan” for the area.

    Others from MIT have been very active as well. Sarah Gallop, who also serves as Clerk of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, has been good enough to take on the leadership of the Marketing & Promotion working group, which has the goal of telling the world in no uncertain terms just how awesome Kendall Square is. There are a myriad of opportunities to do this, from launching the first website dedicated to representing the Kendall Square area, to small but important details, such as ensuring for visitors to the area that there are maps at the exits of the MBTA station that show the significant local destinations and how to get there.

    Working with Sarah at MIT is Kelley Brown, MIT’s senior planner, who is working with the KSA and the City to identify areas where the infrastructure needs maintenance, such as burned out street lights.

    Also on the Board, and having worked in a similar area to Kelley at MIT for decades is Bob Simha. Bob represents the 303 Third Street residential development, and has the distinction of being the only person who is both on the board of the KSA today, and who was on the founding Board of the Kendall Square Business Association, our predecessor organization formed in 1974. Bob has a wealth of area history and knowledge that rivals that of Joe Tulimieri.

    The life sciences community is extensively represented on the KSA Board by Ann Stanesa from Genzyme, Dr. Fintan Steele from the Broad Institute, Martin Mullins from the Whitehead Institute, Tim Hunt from BiogenIdec, and Jeff Lockwood from Novartis. You couldn’t ask for a more esteemed group.

    Eric Quadrino, co-owner of Mexicali Burrito, perhaps unsuspectingly, has taken on the rather large job of coordinating the Retail, Restaurants, Residential, Hotels & Entertainment working group. He is working with others to gather studies that have been done in the past in this area, with the goal of making the area more attractive to these types of organizations. Having a balanced mix of office, lab, retail, restaurants, residences, hotels, and entertainment organizations is part of the key to creating a vibrant, healthy neighborhood.

    The City of Cambridge itself has engaged actively with this effort as well. Mayor Simmons and City Manager Bob Healy both kindly came and spoke to our assembled members at our inaugural meeting, and were joined by Councilors Craig Kelley, Sam Seidel and Tim Toomey. All of the City Councilors have been very supportive. In addition, Estella Johnson and Pardis Saffari from the Community Development Department have engaged actively, particularly in the area of Marketing & Promotion.

    Many others–too many to name, really–have jumped in across the board to help, encourage, and support what proves to be an exciting community endeavor. I would like to extend a big thank you to everyone who is supporting this effort.

  3. Thane says:

    Can the KSA Board work with the City of Cambridge to repair the brickwork in Kendall Square? It is a disgrace.