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Harvard Square Theatre owner has 30 days to come up with redevelopment plan

Or Cambridge will act

Harvard Square Theater exterior Anna Hanks/Flickr

The Cambridge City Council has given Gerald Chan, whose Morningside Group owns the Harvard Square Theatre, 30 days to come up with a plan for the long-shuttered site—or face losing it to the city.

Movie-house giant AMC shuttered the location at 10 Church Street in 2012—it had been used as a performance venue since the Jazz Age—and sold it to Chan’s concern in 2015 for $17,500,000. It’s been vacant the whole time.

Morningside has said 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.

Following the City Council’s March 6 vote to impose the 30-day deadline, Chan’s company issued a statement saying it was exploring “many ideas” for the 32,080-square-foot site.

Councilors do not seem convinced, though. One described such statements as “more lies” from Morningside.

As to what the city might do should it seize control of the Harvard Square Theatre, it’s unclear. Cambridge does seem intent on avoiding what happened in Boston with the site of the old Filene’s.

That prime piece of real estate sat vacant for years while its owner waited for it to rise in value. Boston then put the screws to the owner, New York’s Vornado Realty Trust, which eventually handed it off to developer Millennium Partners—and, viola, Millennium Tower and surrounding accouterments such as Roche Bros.

It’s not clear if it’s always been Chan’s plan to sit on the property, though he does own a slew of other, more active real estate in Harvard Square.

What is clear is that the dormant theater seems increasingly conspicuous amid the pace of change in the square in general. Stay tuned.