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Developer Looks To Add 40 Apartments On Top Of Harvard Square Retail Property

A rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Crimson Galeria property at 57 John F. Kennedy St. in Harvard Square.

A plan to transform a Harvard Square retail property that has had multiple previous redevelopment efforts fall through is set to be revived with a public hearing May 24.

The plan, a vertical expansion of the Crimson Galeria retail property at 57 John F. Kennedy St., would add three floors with 40 rental units on top of the existing two-story structure. Filed March 30 with the Cambridge Planning Board, the proposal would include eight affordable units. 

Raj Dhanda owns the property under the entity Crimson Galeria LP, and his real estate firm Mason & Murphy Inc. is overseeing the proposal. For the past eight years, Dhanda has been working to get the plans approved.

The proposal has come a long way since 2014. What was originally marketed as 40 “micro-units” to investors was initially declined due to concerns about the shadows the building would cast on the adjacent Winthrop Park and its overall architectural design. 

The developer then pivoted the project to three floors of Class-A office and changed the building’s design to minimize shadows. That proposal was approved in 2015, but Dhanda said he didn’t begin construction because he hadn’t found a tenant to lease the building. 

“We got the permit and as we started to market the place, we got nowhere. We got very little to no response for a couple of years,” Dhanda told Bisnow in an interview Monday. “Then came Covid and the office market collapsed. Personally, I don't know that there is going to be a resurgence of offices.”

The Crimson Galeria retail property at 57 John F. Kennedy St. in Harvard Square.

After the city changed the area’s zoning map in 2020, and as demand for office space remained stagnant during Covid, Dhanda once again decided to amend the proposal, this time back to residential space.

“We've been working on this idea of an addition to the building for a long time and then we shifted gears two years ago, following Covid and also the enactment of the city ordinance,” said Rancha Balakrishna, vice president and general counsel for Murphy & Mason. “We had received a special permit for the office addition, but then decided that we would apply instead for the residential addition.”

The proposed plans have a small lobby and elevator entrance on Winthrop Street along with over 30K SF of residential space. The project sits next to the Hyde-Taylor House, a historic building constructed in 1846 that served as the original location for the House of Blues. Dhanda also owns that property, which is deemed a historic landmark. 

Crimson Galeria is home to shops and restaurants including CorePower Yoga, Maharaja Restaurant, Shake Shack and Veggie Grille. 

The project is being financed by Hingham Institution for Savings, which has worked with Dhanda on prior deals, including his apartment project at 1718-1730 Massachusetts Ave.

“We are very excited to be able to do this project, or we will be once it gets its approval from the planning board,” Dhanda said. "We think that it will be a really beautiful building for the square, and I feel like that’s what it needs."