These days, Kendall Square is muted, quiet, and ‘fundamentally changed’

These days, Kendall Square is muted, quiet, and ‘fundamentally changed’

These days, Kendall Square is muted, quiet, and ‘fundamentally changed’

Nearly two years into the pandemic, a street-level survey finds the hub of science and research remains sparsely populated.

by Scott Kirsner – via The Boston Globe

What is Kendall Square like during the third wave of the pandemic?

I wanted to understand how Cambridge’s celebrated cluster of innovation felt and who was working there. So I picked Jan. 24, last Monday, to conduct my version of a neighborhood pulse check.

It started at 8:27 a.m. when I hopped out of a Lyft at the big metal fish statue in front of Legal Sea Foods. I used to refer to this Legal location as the high school cafeteria of the biotech world. It was impossible for a biotech executive to dine there without running into someone they wanted to hire or someone they’d fired. Now, it’s closed due to COVID — temporarily, the chain says.

A Clover restaurant a few steps down Main Street was open but had no customers. The busiest morning spot I found was a Dunkin’ location on the first floor of One Broadway, a building that houses the CIC shared office space. But at least 75 percent of the people sitting inside were construction workers wearing orange safety vests, not entrepreneurs. When I went to check on the activity level inside CIC, a café area where the tea and lattes are free to residents was pretty quiet — in 10 minutes, I encountered three people.

On Third Street, a popular high-end coffee shop that had operated under the names Voltage Coffee and Barismo had disappeared. It’s been replaced by one of CIC’s pandemic era off-shoot businesses: a CIC Health COVID testing center. Another neighborhood meeting spot, a Starbucks inside the lobby of the Marriott hotel, had paper over its windows.

Several employers in Kendall Square agreed to share data with me about how many people were using their offices on this particular day. Two of the bigger employers that refused were Biogen, the pioneering biotech company that originally opened an office here in 1983, and Google, which has had a Kendall address since it acquired the small startup in 2005 that developed the Android operating system for mobile devices. Google has about 2,000 employees in the area, and it is expanding its office space — much of it is shrouded in scaffolding — but spokesperson Hannah Hunt said she couldn’t share data on employees using the space, which reopened last June.

I wanted to compare foot traffic going into those two companies, so I stood outside two of Google’s buildings on Broadway for 10 minutes each. At the busier one, at 90 Broadway, I saw six employees enter.
By contrast, at an entrance to a Biogen lab facility at 115 Broadway, 31 people entered in a 10-minute span.
The data I got from tech and biotech employers in the square buttressed that unscientific sample: There are far more scientists than techies showing up for work now. Before the pandemic, Akamai’s headquarters would see about 1,000 people coming to work on a typical Monday, according to Matt Soares, senior manager of operations for the Americas. By his estimate, there were roughly 15 people in the building Jan. 24, four of them working in the “command center” the company runs to monitor its network of computer servers. It helps deliver content and applications over the Internet. Pega, a software company that allows customers to write their own applications and automate business activities, says that 29 people came into its headquarters office at One Main Street. (Pega’s local workforce is about 930. On a typical pre-pandemic day, about 600 people would come into the Kendall headquarters, says spokesman Sean Audet.)
Sarepta Therapeutics said about two dozen scientists and researchers were in its building on First Street on Jan. 24 — all what the company calls “facility-dependent employees,” meaning they need to use equipment in the labs. Anyone who didn’t fit that description had been asked to work remotely in January, “based on the information emerging about the Omicron variant and employee feedback,” according to spokesperson Tracy Sorrentino. Before the December holidays, Sorrentino says that about 60 employees had been coming in on a typical weekday. Sarepta employs about 600 people in total across three Massachusetts locations.
The CIC buildings in Kendall — there are two of them — are home to an array of startup companies, as well as “branch offices” of larger tech and biotech companies. Jan. 24 saw 288 people working on-site, according to chief marketing and experience officer Rodrigo Martinez, a decline of about one-third from the traffic levels of November and December, which he attributed to concerns about the Omicron variant. And the 288 figure is about one-quarter of building traffic in January 2020, Martinez says.
At one company that rents space at CIC, Alden Scientific, just one of the eight local employees was in the office Jan. 24. CEO Jamie Heywood said he’d planned to make the trip in but got caught on too many Zoom meetings at home. Heywood also noted that three of his employees had experienced COVID infections in their families in January.

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