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Harvard Square Theatre owner could face city pressure to redevelop or split

Prime spot vacant since 2012

Harvard Square Theater exterior Anna Hanks/Flickr

The Cambridge City Council is considering forcing Gerald Chan, the billionaire landlord whose trust owns the Harvard Square Theatre at 10 Church Street, to either redevelop the property or give it up.

Movie-house giant AMC shuttered the location in 2012—it had been used as a performance venue since the Jazz Age—and sold it to Chan’s trust in 2015 for $17,500,000. It’s been vacant the whole time.

Chan’s company says it informed the city in December that it was readying redevelopment plans that it would present in the spring. It’s not clear yet what those plans entail.

The City Council isn’t waiting around anyway. It wants officials to set a 30-day deadline for Chan to present a redevelopment plan—or Cambridge will move to seize the property or force a sale ... or something.

The council also wants to move forward on legislation that would ban “land banking”—the practice of sitting on prime parcels for potential profit down the road, with no plans to redevelop them, a tactic perhaps most famously employed across the river at the old Filene’s site in Boston.

Meanwhile, should Chan or the city take the theater space in a new direction, that project would join a veritable plethora of changes in Harvard Square, including the redevelopment of its central plaza and of Harvard University’s student union.