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Renovations to the Garage Mall in Harvard Square Stalled Until ‘Major, Quality Tenant’ Identified

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Since unveiling plans to completely transform the Garage in 2021, the developer’s president said the company is “choosing not to proceed” with the building’s redevelopment until it finds a “major, quality tenant.”

The Garage is a shopping center at 36 JFK St. that houses a number of Harvard Square businesses and restaurants, including Lê’s Vietnamese Restaurant, Subway, and Newbury Comics. The developer — Trinity Property Management — planned to renovate the structure into a six-story building.

John P. DiGiovanni, president of Trinity Property Management, said the “vast majority” of the new building will be office space. Without a tenant to rent this space, the project will be “way too expensive,” DiGiovanni said, even though the project has received nearly all city permits.

DiGiovanni said plans to redevelop the Garage began around five years ago when Trinity began studying the problems faced by its tenants and found that the Garage’s “physical conditions” do not “meet the demands” of the current generation.

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“I could see that our tenants, particularly on the second floor and even interior food — their sales were dropping,” DiGiovanni said, adding that these businesses “couldn’t compete” with those on the street level.

In addition, the building is energy inefficient, and the Mt. Auburn Street and JFK Street entrances are inaccessible, he said.

“We were trying to find a way to just preserve it and just make some tweaks and make it more accessible or interesting,” DiGiovanni said.

“That was really not viable — and in some cases, you hate to say this in a construction way, almost physically impossible,” he added.

The proposed building includes approximately 89,000 square feet of space and would be six stories tall, with the upper floors being mostly office space and the lower ones dedicated to retail.

It will also be LEED gold-certified — the second-highest energy efficiency rating — and “engage with the district, the street in a way that it ought to in the 21st century,” according to DiGiovanni.

Since announcing the renovation plans in 2021, DiGiovanni said the project has received “across-the-board support” from approval bodies, but it must find a tenant with good credit so the project can be “financeable.”

DiGiovanni said it was “unfortunate” that the Covid-19 pandemic hit during the planning process, adding that both “the lack of demand for office space” and higher costs have affected Trinity’s ability to move forward with the development.

Once the project kicks off, DiGiovanni said the entire process — from demolition to putting up a new structure — would take “around 30 to 36 months.”

Since the announcement of the redevelopment plans, some of the Garage’s tenants have departed because they “want certainty,” according to DiGiovanni, who said these exits have been a “loss” for Trinity.

In March, longtime tenant Lê’s said it planned to relocate to Boston’s Chinatown once renovations began, disappointing some Cambridge residents and Harvard affiliates.

“We’re going to work with any of our tenants that want to come back,” DiGiovanni said.

—Crimson staff writer Sidney K. Lee contributed reporting to this article.

—Staff writer Caroline K. Hsu can be reached at caroline.hsu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @CarolineHsu_.

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