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CambridgeSide redevelopment advances as mall seeks second act as mixed-use project

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The East Cambridge complex would include 575,000 square feet of new development—including “family-sized” housing

A wide shot of a pair of mall escalators in an airy mall with shops visible; and there are people on the escalators. Boston Globe via Getty Images

One of the meta-trends in American real estate is the redevelopment of malls to save them from themselves. Fewer people are shopping in brick-and-mortar retail—preferring online perusal instead—and therefore malls are in danger of becoming relics of the near past.

So developers and operators in many places, including the Boston area, are rushing to rework them into something else that doesn’t hinge on food courts and big-box stores.

Case in point: The ongoing efforts of developer New England Development to rework the CambridgeSide Galleria and its parking lot in East Cambridge into a mixed-use development complete with office and lab space as well as housing.

The Cambridge City Council voted in mid-December to alter zoning regs to allow those plans to advance. New England Development last tweaked its proposal in July 2019 amid concerns from some about the scope of the project and the amount of affordable housing it would include.

The plans that the council moved forward call for 575,000 square feet of new floorspace in buildings of between 85 and 155 feet in height (the latter pretty tall for Cambridge as a whole). Some 30 percent of that new floorspace is due to be housing, with individual units skewing toward the larger side—a filing with the city described them as “family-sized.” It’s unclear how many units the CambridgeSide redevelopment will produce.

Also unclear is how much parking the redevelopment will provide. The July change reduced the amount of commercial space in the redevelopment to 400,000 square feet from 500,000, upping the residential component to 175,000 feet from 1250,000.

Retail, especially on the ground floors, will remain a part of CambridgeSide, but enclosed mall-like stores are likely doomed as part of the project.

There is still some concern over the community benefits that New England Development has agreed to pay for, per Cambridge Day’s Marc Levy—specifically millions in funding for Cambridge’s nonprofit East End House that’s continent on the developer filling a future residential building.

The developer still needs the requisite building permits, too, and construction could take up to 10 years. Stay tuned.