The Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee held a public meeting on Monday, June 4, 2012 at 1:09 PM in the Sullivan Chamber.
The purpose of the meeting was to consider ideas for the best long-term community use of the Foundry Works Building.
Present at the meeting were Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Committee, Councillor David Maher, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Reeves, Councillor vanBeuzekom, Robert W. Healy, City Manager, Richard Rossi, Deputy City Manager, Brian Murphy, Assistant City Manager for Community Development, Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, Megan Montgomery, Aide to Councillor Cheung Jason Alves, Aide to Councillor Toomey, John Clifford, Aide to Councillor Reeves, Penny Peters, Mayor's Office and Interim City Clerk Donna P. Lopez.
Also present at the meeting were Tim Rowe, CEO, CI Center and Brian Dacey, CI Center, Charlie Marquardt, and Barbara Broussard, East Cambridge Planning Team, Travis McCready, Kendall Square Associates, Will Sutton, office of Representative Timothy Toomey.
Councillor Cheung opened the meeting and stated the purpose. This is the beginning of a long public discussion on how to use the Foundry Building conveyed to the City by Alexandria Real Estate Equities. There will be three topics for discussion. They are the overarching goals for impact on the community, ideas for specific uses of the building, and next steps to engage more residents in the process. If there are any questions for research for the next meeting they also will be captured.
Charlie Marquardt explained pictures of the Foundry from a tour of the building that was arranged by Councillor Cheung in response to a request from the leadership of the East Cambridge Planning Team for members of the community to see the building in order to prepare for the public meeting called by the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee. Mr. Marquardt stated that the building is a beautiful building with great potential--lighting, a lot of space and low ceilings. This is a great opportunity to use odd spaces. The top floor has high ceilings. The entire building has nooks and crannies. He spoke about the architecture - it calls out for the flexible use of the space. This could be a subsidized community space to help with the tax rate.
Tim Rowe gave a PowerPoint Presentation on the past and future of the Foundry Building (ATTACHMENT A) prepared in response to the call of the meeting. Tim outlined the origins of the building. The original building was all open inside, unlike the structure today. In 1910 the building was featured in the NY Times article relating to the working conditions and women. Today the building is 100% vacant and owned by the City of Cambridge. Just by its use it will be a benefit the city.
Councillor Cheung asked the City Manager about the history of the building. Mr. Healy stated that there are two documents relating to the building; a zoning ordinance amendment (Ordinance # 1319) and a letter of commitment dated February 9, 2009 and filed by Alexandria Real Estate Equities. The Foundry was transfer to the city for community or municipal use. In January 2012 the final transfer of the property occurred. He stated that any city property is subject to Chapter 30B as well as to Municipal Ordinance relating to the disposition, sale or lease of city-owned land. A concept to get the ball rolling and the lack of available small start-up space this building could be a public/private partnership. There exist differing potential municipal needs. This will be a City Council decision that will require six votes.
Mr. Murphy stated that a minimum of 10,000 square feet of space has to go to education/institutional use. It is useable space.
Councillor Toomey stated that he was disturbed as how this is unfolding. Certain groups are touring a city building; was authorization given to tour the building. The whole community process has been skipped. His vote on the zoning amendment was contingent on the community benefit package. The whole process has been compromised. This should have been started with the community. He was concerned about liability with the tours. This is a public process that needs to be open to all. The High School extension needs a home. There are a lot of different aspects that people need to weigh in on this issue.
Councillor Cheung stated that this is a public meeting, open to all and the first of many public dialogue sessions. Councillor Cheung agreed that this does need a community process. It was because of that need that the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee public meeting they were presently attending was called to kick off that community process. All ideas for what can go into the building will be welcomed. This building is pre-promised to no one. This is a public visioning process to discuss what the potential for the building is or could be, and to get ideas out of individuals' heads and publicly on the table. At the end of this meeting the committee would publicly report a list of ideas for Goals and Uses for the building and then what the next steps are in the process for more members of the community to weigh in.
Travis McCready favored clarity. What is meant by activating the streetscape? He spoke about heavy vehicular traffic on Third Street and his concern about adding too much vehicular traffic. He was in favor of pedestrian traffic rather than vehicular traffic.
Tim Rowe stated that cities need new and old spaces. There may not be a building in Kendall Square that could support a low profit community process. This is an opportunity. Mr. Rowe stated that he has been thinking about this building for long time. Ms. Brossard stated that according to NPR within the 5-6 next year the US will need 87,000 machinists. Artists need space to store supplies and space to use. Mr. Rowe stated that General Assembly in NY has classes that teach people the skills needed for jobs for the 21st Century. There are 100,000 unfilled jobs in MA. This organization is working to fix this. They will open at night at CIC because the site is not used at night. He spoke about the need for community gathering spaces as well as workspaces. The HUB in San Francisco is a co-working organization and works for the benefit of companies. The HUB will open in Cambridge or Boston. All these options work without public funding.
Mr. Rowe stated that the Foundry has outdoor space which is needed for a daycare facility. However he cited that there are fire and code issues with this space. The space could be used for a machine shop. Tech Shop is the largest organization in the country. There is a need for affordable space for startup companies. Massachusetts, he said, is losing companies because there is no start-up space. A community kitchen is another great idea for the space.
Councillor Reeves stated that he is not clear on the social entrepreneur space. He asked Mr. Rowe to explain. Mr. Rowe explained that social entrepreneurs share the space with class space and there is an economic system that supports the businesses. Councillor Reeves stated that Third Sector NE has a similar facility as well as the Philips Brooks House. Mr. Rowe stated that there are a number of different models. This is 21st Century co-working model. Councillor Reeves spoke about day care reality and the need in US and MA. There are not enough day care facilities. The Red Ribbon Commission decided that more day care and early childcare space is drastically needed as well as the need for larger and better spaces for day care facilities. Human Services Department should be looking at the day care issue. He would not want to put toddlers in buildings where there is exhaust. Affordable day care should be addressed.
Ms. Broussard stated that the building could be leased with caveats; such as space for entrepreneurs that could also be used for teaching to help individuals get jobs. The site could be managed for the City. Councillor Cheung asked Mr. Healy if this were feasible. Mr. Healy responded that an invitation to bid could be issued if the entity that is leasing the space can offset the use. This falls under the sale and lease of City owned property. This needs to be a competitive process. Councillor Reeves stated that the City has vacant space at the First Street garage and VFW. This is not the city's forte. He spoke of models that have been successful, such as the Dance Complex and the Community Learning space models.
Mr. Healy commented that the ideas are noble, but there still exists an Anti-Aide amendment in the Massachusetts Constitution. Money cannot be given to entities. He suggested going to the legislature to create a model similar to the Affordable Housing Trust.
Councillor Maher stated that he was reluctant to see the City as the landowner of this building. The City does not have a good track record. He thinks that gaining possession of the building, the potential sale of the building and how the money could be used would benefit the community. The building is assessed for $8.5 million. He spoke about a trust fund set up that would allocate grants for non-profits to benefit the community. Ms. Broussard added that some non-profits need space more. Mr. Dacey spoke about the possibility of using spaces in a revolving way. Councillor Reeves agreed with Councillor Maher on where the city needed to end up. He wished to push hard on innovation and to support innovation as long as the City did not run it. He added the need for artist space.
Mr. Rossi urged caution. A small non-profit given a boost to a more modernized space could create a cost-generating dilemma. Councillor Cheung asked Mr. Rossi to explain the situation he was thinking of. Mr. Rossi stated that the City bought the VFW property and allowed the VFW to contribute to the cost of the retrofit. In an old facility where nothing worked properly the operational costs were minimal. However in the new facility the operating costs were too expensive. The problems created by monetarily assisting non-profits can be more complex.
Mr. Rowe spoke about his vision for the building. Staying in the old building and not improving it - it will be affordable and basic. Mr. Rossi stated that a good example was the day care facility. The state has specific guidelines and building permit states that you have to build to today's standards. Mr. Rowe agreed that day care regulation have strict guidelines. The City Council needs to make a decision for the uses in this building. If uses are subsidized and you pick a use that does not work out - the shared use facility has a better chance of succeeding. This building could be a hyper-shared building. This could reduce the cost considerably. This could be low cost space for non-profits. He wanted to push on the sharing space aspect. In shared space there are a high number of people in a small space. Efficiency is low if you are heating and cooling an empty space. Sharing space is economical.
Councillor vanBeuzekom stated that she loved the environmental sharing. Have we touched on the public/private space? Would legal issues be different in a partnership? Mr. Rossi responded that the Inspector General will look in to making sure it is used as a public benefit. Mr. Dacey explained two ventures he was involved in for the federal government that wanted other activities. This was accomplished by a management agreement with non-governmental uses. This was driven by the public sector stating what they wanted to see.
Councillor vanBeuzekom stated that another example of a Cambridge relationship is with the Office of Tourism for the funding structure. Mr. Rossi stated that this is different. Mr. McCready spoke about a government asset that could be better served by the private sector. Tourism is not a good example because tourism is not something the government is responsible to accomplish. Education is a good example. The governments should not be responsible for the flavor of the month. No one knows what the most efficient steps in the years to come will be the best for sharing spaces. If the private/public partnership is used the management agreement must be flexible enough to be released from.
Councillor Toomey questioned if Cambridge youth will benefit. Mr. Rowe commented that CIC has the highest level of interns. Education is not preparing youth for employment for the 21St Century. Councillor Reeves asked what is a Cantabrigian getting that will require education to provide them so that they can provide for their families. Mr. Rowe stated that low cost space must be maintained for social spaces. Space can be leased by the city to an organization with a stipulation that it maintain a modest price. Councillor Toomey stated that he was adamant that the community be involved. This building was given to the city for mitigation for the community. Mr. Rossi commented that anything the City does must follow the statutes.
During the discussion phase the following list of goals, uses, questions and next steps was created:
Overarching Goals for the Community
- Activation of the pedestrian streetscape; address traffic safety concerns.
- Benefit and enhance the community through its community organizations.
- Keep in mind public/private flexibility.
- Mitigate the impacts of development on the community.
Brainstorm on Ideas for Potential Uses
- More daycare options.
- Community space for veterans.
- Space for machine shop.
- Space for community classes, artists
- Low cost office space for nonprofits.
- Space for neighborhood groups.
- Space for a community kitchen.
- Space for dance group.
- High school extension space.
- School department space.
- IT department.
- Space for the arts.
- Tech education/reeducation.
- Space for seniors.
- Public market/grocery mart.
Questions for Consideration and Potential Next Steps
- Councillor Cheung will work with DPW to offer additional public tours of the building.
- Evaluate potential legal considerations and structures.
- Tour Brewery in Jamaica Plain.
- Explore other innovative organizations to learn best practices that can be implemented at the Foundry Building.
- Understand the benefits of the physical space available vs. monetary trade-offs.
- Inquire of Alexandra the estimated costs to operate the building.
- Put together an estimated timeline for the community process.
- Consider the feasibility of renting immediately but for only a short-term period.
- Find a blueprint of the floor plan of building.
Councillor Cheung thanked those present for their attendance.
The meeting adjourned at 2:55 PM.
For the Committee,
Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair
Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee