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M.I.T. Hits Brakes on Massive Metropolitan Warehouse Conversion

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School instead looking at building completely new dorm

M.I.T.'s conversion of the 221,194-square-foot Metropolitan Moving & Storage Warehouse at Vassar Street and Massachusetts Avenue was shaping up to be one of the biggest (and most controversial) projects in all of Greater Boston.

The university, the castle-like property's landlord since 1966, closed it on Jan. 30, having vacated all the storage tenants with the intention of remaking the building by September 2018 into dorm rooms for up to 450 students. Many, including us, applauded news of the conversion. Why? Because Cambridge can use all of the student housing it can get. Such housing takes students out of the general scramble for lodging, freeing up options for townies.

Plus, it appeared that the second act for the warehouse, whose earliest bones date from 1894, was quite exciting design-wise, with airy, modern common uses for the M.I.T. student body included and ground-floor retail as well. (See rendering below from Brookline's Ensemble Studio and the Architectural Team in Chelsea.)

Now! It appears that the university thinks its original conversion timeline was a tad too ambitious. Turns out remaking a century-plus-old monolith in the middle of a dense urban area has its challenges. From a recent release by the university (h/t Cambridge Day):

M.I.T. had been working toward a goal of September 2018 for the opening of the new facility; that goal had reflected the Institute’s need for more student housing, and for flexibility during renovations of existing undergraduate and graduate housing. That timeline will now be pushed back: The ambitious, multi-step process of completing final design, obtaining City of Cambridge permits, and reconstructing a 100-plus-year-old building make a September 2018 reopening an unlikely outcome.

Instead of a rush job on the Metropolitan conversion, the university will look at building a new residence hall on its west campus, southeast of Vassar Street. Meanwhile, the university still holds a candle for its ballyhooed conversion. The timeline has simply been "pushed back," according to the release, though no new completion or opening date has been given. Stay tuned.