New Business Association Looks to the Future of Kendall Square, “The Product Cambridge Offers to the World”

Companies, merchants, and residents in the Kendall Square neighborhood of Cambridge banded together last week to form the Kendall Square Association, a non-profit group whose mission, according to its new president Tim Rowe, is to “improve, protect, and promote” the technology-saturated neighborhood. After several months of informal discussions, representatives from dozens of area organizations, including Xconomy, met at Genzyme Center on February 24 to formally incorporate the association and elect board members and officers.

With funding from member organizations, the association expects to take on both short-term issues such as repairing sidewalks and setting up a free Wi-Fi network and longer-term challenges such as optimizing transportation patterns, improving the mix of retail outlets, eateries, and entertainment venues in the area, and developing a 20-year plan for the neighborhood’s growth.

While there have been previous efforts to organize local businesses to promote the Kendall Square area—notably the Kendall Square Manufacturing Association, which was formed in the 1920s and later morphed into the current-day Cambridge Chamber of Commerce—Rowe says there has been no active group representing the area’s interests since a group called Kendall Square Business Association, founded in the 1970s, petered out more than a decade ago. Given the area’s rapid transformation over the past few years, including the addition of multiple office and laboratory buildings and the impending construction of a huge biotech park on the neighborhood’s northern edge, it was time for stakeholders to start talking about how to guide the area’s future, Rowe said in an interview last week.

“We are in a world now where there is a lot of interest in civic engagement,” Rowe says. “The time seemed to be right; there was a need that was growing, a rising tide that crested the dike.”

Rowe is well known around Kendall Square as the founder and CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which rents space to more than 170 small and medium-sized technology companies at One Broadway. He’s also a partner at New Atlantic Ventures, an infotech-focused venture fund based in Cambridge and Reston, VA.

He says part of the impetus behind forming the group came from watching other organizations successfully promote their own neighborhoods in Cambridge—especially the Harvard Square Business Association, which has helped bring more attractive development and more cultural events (not to mention free Wi-Fi coverage) to the area around the Harvard campus.

But the idea isn’t to put Kendall Square in competition with Harvard Square or other local neighborhoods, Rowe says. If anything, it’s to underscore Kendall Square’s attractions compared to locations on the West Coast.

“The real competition is Palo Alto,” says Rowe. “I talk to a lot of startups trying to decide between two destinations, and it’s not Kendall Square or Harvard Square, it’s Kendall Square or Palo Alto. But the fact that both Google and Microsoft set up major offices in Kendall Square in the last few years is a big win for this area. It’s jobs we’ve brought in, and we want to have more of that.”

In fact, Kendall Square—which the association defines as the area within a 10-minute walking radius of the Kendall Square subway station—has benefited from massive investment and lightning-fast growth, compared to most other areas of Massachusetts. But that growth has been mostly … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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