Harvard and Genzyme expansions - not worth a comparison

Tom Keane (Harvard class of '78) writes in yesterday's Globe that it is time for Boston to start doing more to support the colleges and universities located here. His basic premise is that private businesses get treated with kid gloves while colleges and universities are every one's favorite whipping boy.

He compares the Allston expansions of Harvard and Genzyme to show how differently a school and business are treated - that Harvard has pledged $25 million in community benefits associated with its $1 billion Science Complex project and Genzyme is providing none as part of its $150 million expansion.

One might think that a major difference between Harvard and Genzyme is that tax-exempt Harvard pays no property tax while for-profit Genzyme does. But a review of the City's assessing data shows that Boston collects no tax from Genzyme. This is because the City gave a Chapter 121A exemption to Genzyme to support its development. So while the Genzyme building and land are valued at $19 million, Genzyme had a $2.9 billion profit in 2007, and Genzyme would otherwise pay the City $500,000 a year in taxes, in this regard Harvard and Genzyme are the same - they both get a tax-free ride while residents and other businesses shoulder the burden of funding Boston's $2.4 billion budget.

Taxes aside, the differences in scale between Harvard's expansion and Genzyme's expansion make a reasonable comparison between the two impossible.
  • The Genzyme property (which is actually a Harvard-owned property leased to Genzyme) is 8.6 acres that is about as far from the Allston neighborhood as possible, and Genzyme is doing nothing to expand its presence beyond this site.
    Harvard owns more than 300 acres in Allston and Brighton and is continually looking for more property to acquire.
  • Genzyme is adding 86,000 square feet of office and manufacturing-support space
    Harvard's 650,000 square foot Science Complex is the first piece 9-10 million square feet of new construction in the next 50 years.

  • Genzyme's expansion will add 90 workers at its expanded factory.
    Harvard's Science Complex will have 1,000 workers and the full expansion expects to add 15,000 new jobs.
    The impact of 90 more people driving to work won't even be noticed, but our already choked roads will absolutely fail with several thousand more. New jobs and construction are of course vital to the regional economy, but so is continued investment in our transportation infrastructure, an area where Harvard has proposed very little and should at least take a position as a thought leader, due to the extent of its land holdings and magnitude of its future growth.

There are a lot of other problems with the "evidence" that Keane tries to use to prove his point, but trying to make an apples-to-apples comparison between these two projects may be the biggest.

1 comment:

  1. The contrast of community benefits between Harvard and Genzyme also seems to be weakened when you go through the itemized list of Harvard's package.

    As you showed a while back -- albeit early in the process -- some of the $25 million is not really related to Allston-Brighton, like the city-wide housing trust fund payments.

    If you take Harvard's accounting and apply it to Genzyme (including those linkage payments), are the relative expenditures on community benefits more comparable?