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East Cambridge courthouse redevelopment inching forward—again

Developer showing off latest plans as years-long saga over 282-foot brutalist building continues

Rendering via Legat McCall/Elkus Manfredi

The would-be developer of the former Sullivan courthouse and jail at 40 Thorndike Street in East Cambridge is hoping to jumpstart the project with a new storefront community center on nearby Cambridge Street starting next week.

The storefront will display models of plans for the 22-story brutalist building, which shuttered in 2014. That looming closure touched off a battle over the fate of the 282-foot property, which went up in the 1960s and 1970s—and which opponents of its redevelopment say remains out of scale for the neighborhood aesthetically and zoning-wise.

Developer Leggat McCall has long held the right to redevelop the building and beat back legal opposition in Massachusetts Land Court and a subsequent appeals court. The developer’s plans have fluctuated for most of the decade now amid this opposition.

The plans now call for 430,000 square feet of office space, 15,000 square feet of ground-level retail, open space, and two dozen apartments for lower- and moderate-income renters (something much, much needed in Cambridge in general). Leggat McCall also wants to re-clad the building’s brutalist facade with bigger windows and terra cotta, per the Globe's Tim Logan.

The developer has city approvals for this work—and the state legal wins—so what’s the holdup? It needs City Council approval to lease 420 parking spaces in the city-owned First Street Garage across the street, Logan reports. The entire project could move forward with that approval, which could come this spring. Stay tuned.