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New American Repertory Theater Development Plan Unanimously Approved by BPDA

An artist’s rendering of the proposed site for the American Repertory Theater at 175 N. Harvard St.
An artist’s rendering of the proposed site for the American Repertory Theater at 175 N. Harvard St. By Courtesy of Dematerial
By Jack R. Trapanick, Crimson Staff Writer

The Boston Planning and Development Agency unanimously approved development plans Thursday for relocating Harvard’s American Repertory Theater from its Brattle Street location into Allston, alongside construction of new affiliate housing.

The project, funded in part by a $100 million donation from hedge fund manager David E. Goel ’93 and his wife Stacey L. Goel, will be located at 175 North Harvard St., just next to Trader Joe’s and Harvard’s Science and Engineering Complex.

Construction is set to break ground sometime next year, and the theater is expected to start producing in 2026, according to a press release.

The new facility will feature two distinct performance venues and spaces for rehearsal, instruction, and outdoor events. A.R.T. leadership stressed the need for a site more suited to a modern approach to theater, including “intentional architecture” such as a more open, sustainable design and adaptable workspaces.

The A.R.T., founded in 1980 and situated just next to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is a professional theater that has produced several Tony Award-winning shows. It also serves as a site of instruction for many courses in the Theater, Dance, and Media concentration and as the home of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club.

In remarks at a BPDA hearing on the project Thursday night, A.R.T. Executive Director Kelvin Dinkins Jr. discussed the need for the theater’s move, saying its current site, the Loeb Drama Center, “was not built to support a boundary-breaking regional theater.”

Rebecca Curtiss, director of public relations for the A.R.T., explained over email that the center “has no rehearsal space, no storage, and limited technology to support A.R.T.’s ambitious productions.” The building also lacks an elevator, limiting the accessibility of much of the space, including the center’s restrooms.

In his remarks, Dinkins also wrote that the new building would be “a model for the next generation of cultural architecture.”

“This new building will become a fixture among the city’s cultural offerings as an international destination and a local hang-out,” he added.

Tim McHale, a member of the Harvard-Allston Task Force — a resident-based advisory board on Harvard’s developments in Allston — said he was “thrilled” about the arrival of the A.R.T.

“I’m a working musician and I love the arts, and I couldn’t be happier with it coming in,” he said.

The current site at 175 N. Harvard St. where the new A.R.T. center will be constructed.
The current site at 175 N. Harvard St. where the new A.R.T. center will be constructed. By Jennifer Z. Liang

Though TDM concentrator Julia T. Ward ’25 said she is already “very content with what the A.R.T. provides us,” she added she is “very excited” for the move to a new facility, citing benefits to the promotion of the arts on campus.

The approval for the A.R.T. comes as Allston confronts serious threats to its local arts scene as beloved spaces from the Sound Museum to artists’ studios are pushed out by private development and the growing cost of rent.

Also at the meeting Thursday, the BPDA approved the construction of a 13-story building for Harvard affiliate housing, including for graduate students, staff, and faculty. The building, which will include 276 units — or enough to house around 500 people — will be the first Harvard-affiliated housing in Allston outside of the Business School campus.

Some Allston residents raised concerns about the size of the building and its potential to cast shadows over the primary green space in Allston, Smith Field, which BPDA projections showed could block sunlight from portions of the park in the early morning — a concern that the task force echoed in October comment to the agency.

“Harvard does not put tall buildings that cast long seasonal shadows over its Business School campus where it would have no impact on residents, but instead decides to place one directly abutting a community park, blocking morning sun for several months of the year,” the group wrote.

Executive Vice President Meredith L. Weenick ’90 said the University is “thrilled that the creation of significant new University housing might reduce pressure on a stressed local housing market.”

Brent Whelan, a member of the task force, said Harvard should have updated its community benefits for the project, which were negotiated a decade ago as part of its 2013 Institutional Master Plan. At the time, the 175 North Harvard St. development was anticipated to be a basketball arena.

Whelan said that since both Allston’s needs and the nature of the development — although not the size — had changed since 2013, the community benefits associated with the project should have, too.

Still, Whelan offered tempered optimism about the development.

“It is a drop in the bucket, but it is what this project is able to do,” he said.

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at jack.trapanick@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jackrtrapanick.

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175 N. Harvard St.