The Feb. 29 City Council agenda included an order for the City to enter into a public-private partnership with the Harvard Square Business Association to steward and curate the historic Out of Town News kiosk in Harvard Sq. The news company’s lease runs out at the end of 2016 and $4.5m may be earmarked for the city to renovate and repurpose it. The order was “charter righted” by Councillor Dennis Carlone, and the debate could resume at the Council’s next meeting on Mar. 14 (there will be no meeting on Mar. 7). I was absent at the Feb. 29 meeting, so did not get a chance to ask any questions about the composition or authority of the working group and the extent of commercial activity that would take place at the kiosk. For instance, a digital sign on the roof of the kiosk has been suggested as a means of generating revenue for upkeep and programming — is this appropriate? Personally, I would prefer to see it dedicated to a non-commercial public use, say, for interactive exhibits on Cambridge history and with information for residents and visitors about public events. What do you think? Please comment below.
The text of the order reads:
WHEREAS: Harvard Square continues to be a major destination and hub for shopping, dining, entertainment and sightseeing, attracting residents and visitors from surrounding cities and towns and those from around the world; and
WHEREAS: The Harvard Square Business Association, which hosts its 106th Annual Meeting on March 4, 2016, has been promoting commerce in Harvard Square for all of its 106 years and has a proven track record of working closely and partnering with residents, students, neighborhood groups, Harvard University and the City of Cambridge; and
WHEREAS: The Association has been thoughtful in proposing enhancements to the Square that aim to make visiting the Square more interesting for the public than ever before; and
WHEREAS: The City of Cambridge has already taken the important step of appropriating $500,000 in the current fiscal year to conduct an engineering study of the Out of Town Kiosk and surrounding plaza and has further committed $2 million in FY ‘17 and $2 million in FY ‘18 to undertake the full restoration of the Kiosk building and plaza; and
WHEREAS: Upon completion, the newly envisioned kiosk will be repurposed to better meet the changing needs of residents and visitors alike with enhanced communal features and uses including preserving the historic and iconic Kiosk, improving pedestrian safety and access, increasing open space and greenery, and adding state-of-art information and technology; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to form a special working group that will be tasked with developing a framework for the continued stewardship, curatorship and oversight of the historic Kiosk; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City of Cambridge and the Harvard Square Business Association develop a public/private partnership that will thoughtfully and purposefully continue efforts to support and promote commerce in Harvard Square while being good stewards of the public space by managing the fiscal and programmatic aspects of this important and iconic space.