A mall in Harvard Square? Not if some neighbors get their way

The Boston Globe | By Tim Logan
December 22, 2016

The endless skirmish over the soul of Harvard Square is heating up again.

A plan to redevelop three properties on the block where Brattle Street meets John F. Kennedy Street — including the Abbot Building, the flatiron-shaped home to The World’s Only Curious George Store — is roiling locals who worry the once-bohemian business district is marching ever closer to sterility. Turning the trio of century-old buildings into a glitzy indoor mall, they fear, would be the last straw.

“We’re trying to ring the bell quickly before this goes down,” said Susan Corcoran, the owner of Black Ink, a gift shop on Brattle Street. “The businesses that go will never make it back.”

Of course, griping that Harvard Square is “not what it used to be” is a virtual right of residency. More than one generation has lamented the loss of its favorite stores and restaurants.

But the latest fight comes as deep-pocketed investors are dramatically reshaping the area, propelling rents that are among the steepest in Greater Boston even higher.

It started a few years ago, when billionaire Gerald Chan amassed more than $120 million worth of property in the neighborhood, including the shuttered Harvard Square Theater on Church Street. Next was the flare-up over Forbes Plaza last year, when Harvard University said it would renovate the Smith Campus Center and cover the much-loved space with a glass atrium. That project is underway, with an atrium smaller than the one Harvard originally proposed.

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