Six-foot-tall magenta kiosks, crowned by oversized letter Ks, could be popping up throughout Kendall Square in the coming months, as part of an effort to rebrand the innovation hub.
Kendall’s roaring growth draws scores of international visitors seeking to replicate its success, so it might sound odd that boosters think the neighborhood needs an image upgrade. Their chief complaint: the area lacks a cohesive identity.
Visitors can’t tell precisely when they’ve stepped foot in the land of biotech wizardry, and many don’t have a clue how to get from one Kendall landmark to another.
The neighborhood is “incredible, but amorphous,” said Sarah Gallop, co-director of government and community relations at MIT. “We’ve got to do a better job of letting people know they’re in Kendall.”
The Kendall Square Association last year hired the Boston-based branding firm Minelli, Inc., which has worked for clients ranging from the Seaport District to a Native American tribal council in Alaska. Minelli recently turned over recommendations for unifying the neighborhood.
The timing and cost of the kiosk plan are still being worked out, but the idea is for about a dozen of the structures to be placed on properties throughout the area, said Gallop, who also works on marketing for the Kendall Square Association. The color palette will likely include shades of yellow, green, and magenta.
Other steps could include street markings that say how long it takes to walk to local landmarks such as the T stop and the Charles River. “There’s this perception that it’s hard to find your way, when in fact it’s a 10-minute walk anywhere,” said Alexandra Lee, executive director of the association.
Jennifer St. Gabriel, who lives in the area, agreed with the notion of creating a sense of place in Kendall. But she echoed other residents in suggesting a more urgent to-do list — like bringing in a grocery store and a pharmacy. “The concept of where you are,” she said, “is less important than having good amenities.”
Hungry once more
The beloved restaurant Hungry Mother reopened briefly Sunday, but instead of munching on Southern-style food, guests were perusing stacks of plates, mason jars of cutlery and framed collections of vintage matchbooks — all for sale.
Almost everything that had been part of Hungry Mother, which closed in July after seven years, was up for grabs, down to the coat hooks and sconces on the wall. The sale came as most of the team behind Hungry Mother prepares to open a new restaurant in the space. “It’s time for a fresh start,” said Rachel Miller Munzer, one of the co-owners.
For Paul Harsha and Ed Hardebeck, the event was one last chance to grab a drink in the bar, where they perched on chairs going for $100 a piece. The two, who used to work together, came into the restaurant on its first night and it became their usual Friday hang-out spot. Not that they had many options back then.
“When they opened, there was nothing here,” Harsha said.
The sale raised more than $4,000, Miller Munzer said. Proceeds will go toward the new restaurant, which may open by the end of the year. Among the bigger-ticket items that sold: The light fixture from above the bar, the draft tower, and the iconic cardinal that sat atop the host stand.
Battling tooth decay from Kendall to Kuwait
Dr. Pramod Soparkar has been traveling to Kuwait for more than three decades to help run a dental program reaching 250,000 children a year.
At 88, he has no plans to slow down.
Soparkar helped start the program in 1983 for the Forsyth Institute, an oral health research center in Kendall Square, and has seen it expand from Kuwait City throughout the country. In April, the Forsyth extended its agreement with the Kuwaiti government, which funds the program, to administer it for another three years.
Soparkar spends less time in Kuwait than he used to, but said he plans to retire only if he can no longer do the work physically or mentally – or if the program shuts down. (The Forsyth hopes to keep it going indefinitely.)
Soparkar – who goes by the nickname Bob because that’s what a landlady called him when he first came to Boston from India in 1951 – has some hearing issues but says he is healthy. He said he would like to extend the contract with Kuwait for two more three-year stints. Then maybe he’ll be ready to retire.
“I think by that time,” he said, “I might be aging.”
Patrick Field has seen the bustle in Kendall emerge over the past decade as he went to work every day on Main Street.
Now he’s experiencing the downside.
“The revival has been terrific for the feel” of the neighborhood, Field said, “but it’s also been terrific for rents.”
Field is managing director of the nonprofit Consensus Building Institute, which works on dispute resolution around the world and has had space in MIT’s Kendall Building for the last 10 years. When MIT told the group it would not renew its lease, Field said, the nonprofit looked for another home in Kendall.
But existing space rented for around $50 per square foot, a sizeable jump from what the group has been paying, in the low-to-mid $30 range. In a sign of just how intense the market is right now, the prices kept rising as the group looked.
MIT does not comment on individual leases, but it is moving ahead with a $1.2 billion redevelopment project. In plans filed with the city, MIT says it intends to keep the almost 70,000 square feet of office space in the Kendall Building, while the ground-floor retail will be “repositioned.” It has similar plans for the Hammett and Suffolk buildings, also on Main Street.
The Consensus Building Institute ultimately settled on a place in Alewife, starting Oct. 1. Field said it’s paying less than it would to stay in Kendall.
There are tradeoffs, though.
“We’re in a city here — you can see the skyline, the river’s beautiful, there’s a lot of dynamic energy,” he said. “Alewife is much more of an office park environment, at least for now.”
This is the first in a weekly column about Kendall Square.