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(NECN: Peter Howe) - It’s been talked about for years, and now it’s really happening: The transformation of the old gritty South Boston Waterfront into a Seaport "Innovation District," where since the beginning of 2010 new life science and technology companies have been moving in at the rate of one every week.
Hoping that’s just the beginning, Mayor Thomas M. Menino Tuesday unveiled a $5 million plan for a new "Innovation Center," a 9,000-square-foot public gathering and meeting space to be constructed by autumn in what’s now a parking lot wedged between Seaport Boulevard and Northern Avenue, near the new Institute of Contemporary Art.
"We've done some research that shows it could be well-used in that part of the city, because that's the part of the city that's growing the most,"’ Menino said after a speech to the annual meeting of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. "A lot of innovative ideas are down there, a lot of new businesses, and we want to make sure we're able to service those businesses."
Boston Redevelopment Authority spokeswoman Susan Elsbree said the center will be administered, programmed, and booked for gatherings by the same that group that runs the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square – not as an office-incubator space, as in Cambridge, but as a venue for entrepreneur-investor meetings and social/business gatherings and forums.
The project is just one tiny piece of the long-planned $3 billion Seaport Square, a series of new buildings in what are now 25 acres of parking lots that are to total more than 6 million square feet of space – imagine four Prudential Towers – that will include offices, residences, hotels, and commercial space.
The Innovation Center will be attached to a restaurant, and Elsbree said it's being constructed to fulfill one of the many commitments in the Seaport Square development plan to so-called public purpose space. Elsewhere in Boston, that can mean a developer building a new city park or improving access to an MBTA station or the HarborWalk, but in this case, it’s space to kindle and expand the ongoing transformation of what’s often called – without exaggeration – Boston’s 21st Century neighborhood.
Developer John Drew, whose Drew Company developed the World Trade Center and Seaport Hotel and is now working on a 236-apartment building on Congress Street, said he’s excited to see how the Innovation Center can help the Innovation District.
"Just labeling us 'The Innovation District' has helped us a great deal,’" Drew said. A new space devoted to "holding meetings and conferences and nurturing these companies to come down and speak about their ideas and giving them an opportunity to combine with other companies that are down here, rub shoulders, meet one another, I think that will have a very, very significant effect. I think you'll see the companies continue to come down, growth in the area. You'll see more jobs as a result."
With videographer David Jacobs.