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Ever thought of moving AAVSO headquarters out of Boston?

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Ever thought of moving AAVSO headquarters out of Boston?

I was just reading the thread on the snowstorm in Boston, and a thought crossed my mind: have we ever thought of moving HQ out of Boston?  It's obviously not something easily, quickly, or lightly done.  But it seems to me that maintaining a headquarters in one of the most expensive cost-of-living areas in the country, that has some terrible winter weather, and that costs those of us that travel there occasionally for meetings an arm and a leg to get there, might not be optimum in the 21st century. 

My first choice would be a city more central in the United States, with a decent sized academic community, and a reasonable cost of living.  A very close second would be the southwest US, maybe Tucson or Flagstaff, cities near universities, observatories, and dark sky sites that would simplify, I think, AAVSOnet operations.  Wherever it was, I'm sure it would simplify meeting logistics and increase attendance.

This is just a thought I want to toss out for the far advance timeline folks to think about.  ANd I'd be interested to hear from the rest of the crowd what they think. 



lmk's picture
We went there before!

I recall this discussion came up a few years back on the old email forum. I also suggested the move for the same reasons you mention Jim - primarily difficulty travelling to BOS from west coast/Pacific regions, and the poor weather conditions in the NE for an astronomy oriented organization.

As I recall this plan was shot down in large part due to the perceived benefits of Boston area outweighing the other considerations, namely the proximity to, and plethora of, top ranked educational institutions and astronomical research organizatons in that area.

I can generally understand that point of view pretty well. HQ is basically an office where bureaocratic functions take place, and very little observing (except one BSM) happens there, so no need to be in the desert SW for example.

Becoming more centrally located in the USA might be an idea, but then you would lose the educational and cultural aspects of Boston, which are first rate. Plus, for all the many international members and observers, travelling to Boston or Dallas probably won't make much of a difference.

Mike LMK


I'm agreeing with you in part Mike - but AAVSO is also now an organization trying to run a telescope network.  One of the reasons I think of the SW US is exactly that.  Much easier to run a telescope farm in Arizona with piad staff at HQ within a day's drive, than the way it was being done - dependent on a single volunteer, and when that volunteer vaporized, we were hosed.

This isn't something I'm actively advocating - at least not yet.  Just musing on what's best overall.  I'm not sure what physical proximity to the various "stuff" in Boston is getting us much... except being next door to Sky & Tel seems to pay off!


HQA's picture
moving headquarters

Hi Jim and Mike,

In 2006, I was faced with either refurbishing the existing HQ building on Birch Street (which was a logistical nightmare), or else relocating HQ. I looked closely at moving out of state (we own a house in Flagstaff, for example, and my bias would have been to move there, even though the snow is 3x worse).  At that time, commercial properties in cities like Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff were roughly the same price as they were in Cambridge.  We also looked into moving outside the I-95 beltway here (and even had talks with Sky and Telescope about co-locating), and the logistics got really poor - no public transportation, for example.  The proximity to Harvard, MIT etc. was also deemed important, not only for collaborations, but also for a ready pool of staff and volunteers.  Not everything is west; we have good travel connections to the majority of the U.S. population on the east coast, and easy flights into Europe.  Telescopes can be located almost anywhere, including the southern hemisphere, not just the desert southwest.  I've even heard of telescopes in Hawaii!

In the end, the availability of the Sky and Telescope building was the deal-closer.  It meant that we did not have to physically move a great distance, and all of the staff had the same commute as before. Remember that the archives contain paper and books, so there are many, many tons of material that have to be packed and moved.  We probably would have lost most of our staff for such a move anyway.

That said, if the current location of HQ is deemed poor, it can be moved - it just has many issues that need to be considered.  I personally don't see sufficient advantages at this time.


I've only been in Flag in the

I've only been in Flag in the summer, so I didn't know about the snow up there.  Interesting to know the price of commercial real estate was comparable - though I suppose it makes sense; Boston is expensive because of what it is, the sunbelt is expensive because of all the movement in that direction, i.e. where it is.

As far as easy access, I'd debate you on that one - the population center of the US has continued trucking SW, and is somewhere in Missouri now.  Not that I'd want to see HQ in Kansas City!  Incidentally, I don't count myself (or Mike) in this, Hawaii being such an extreme odd case.  If we were the deciding factor, then we'd thing about putting HQ in Tokyo, because it's 1200 nautical miles closer to us than Boston!

At this point it's not even a suggestion, just a thought experiment.



HQA's picture
moving headquarters

Hi Jim,

Your points are well taken.  I think any specific geographic location will have its plusses and minuses, and usually a company doesn't move until the minuses strongly outweigh the plusses.

That said, I love it when people think outside the box.  That is often when creative things get done!  You just have to remember why the box exists. :-)


Moving out of Boston

Although Boston is a long way from California, I agree with Arne and Mike.   The most important thing in any organization is the people.  Losing key staff due to an unnecessary move would hurt an organization that seems to be running very well.   Keep up the good work!

And please keep coming to the SAS meeting in Big Bear.  This gives us on the west coast a chance to mingle and catch up without travelling across the country.

Richard Stanton (STR)

HNL's picture
Moving out of Boston

This comes up all the time. Organization want to be someplace else because they  have to commute. Other places don't have public transportation. I live on the edge of public transportation and find that most of the time it works and others it doesn't . When doing some research in to telescopes I found that a lot of mountains ( that is where the scopes are located ) get a lot of snow. Sometimes it comes down to a compromise of the observers have one place and the researchers have another place  Our organization is lucky enough to have 2 places and the locals go there and the others stay in the city.  Not all get to the other place but it seems to works. I have been working on a distribution of members and find that this being the case it has worked out fine.  That is why we have to have a history.  The young just keep coming up with ideas that have been hashed out many many times.  I don't know what happens when us old folks fade away.  Best  HNL


roe's picture
What's wrong with Kansas City?

I've had many of the misgivings expressed here and wish I could have gotten on Council to advocate for a new HQ location more strongly, but, ce la vie?  There a valid arguments pro and con, of course, but it seems to me most of the pro argument are emotional in contrast to the rational reasons for moving.  I suspect one of the strongest emotional arguments is the attachment to Harvard, which was fine - in the early 20th century.  The idea of needing to be physically close to a center of higher learning and research for collaboration in the age of virtual telescopes, Google Hangouts, etc seems to smack of luddism.

I think the main issue comes down to whom does the organization serve.  The choices are basically the members, the staff, or the "customers."  My guess is the "customers" don't really care as Internet distances are negligible.  It is with staff concerns that I think the emotional aspects of moving dominate - it is hard to change, Boston is their home, etc.  How many of the staff can afford a three bedroom, two car garage home in Boston?  Even if they can, they could sell, move to (dare I say?) Kansas City or any of a host of similarly affordable cities and live in a much bigger house and pocket a small fortune for other activities.  The same for the organization.  If they sold the real estate to others who wish to pay the (to me) high premium for the location there would be plenty of cash to buy (or lease) much larger, more modern facilities in any of the aforementioned affordable areas with cash left over for operations or ensuring longer term viability of the organization.

I come down in favor of the members.  Times are hard and getting harder.  The cost to visit Boston is downright prohibitive ( a clue is the oft-mentioned this (or that) is a good price "for Boston").   The Council should carefully evaulate whom they work for.

Jim Roe [ROE]

sgor's picture
Looking around

Taking you all at your word that real estate and travel costs are the bases of your dislike for Boston as HQ location, then Detroit should be first on your list! Very low real estate prices, more centrally located (US wise, that is) and a major air travel hub!

MDAV's picture
HQ Re-location

As Anna (HNL) pointed out- It is important to know and understand the institutional history.  As she, Arne (HQA),  and others have pointed out this is hardly a new idea.

I would recommend that anyone who has not done so read the by-laws at

and this article on the history of the HQ-

Be careful about making fundamental changes for the sake of expediency. Many an organization has "improved" itself right out of existence.

Thanks for listening to my two bits-

Dave M (MDAV)

Again, it's just something

Again, it's just something that popped into my head last night.  But, just to continue with some of the thoughts...

-If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Right now, it ain't broke.  In 2006, the association needed a new building, having outgrown the old quarters.  All else being equal, the association went outside the box at the time, bought the present building, and here we are.  That's also the third or fourth time that we've outgrown the HQ digs; we will get to that point again, 5 or 10 years down the road, if history is any indicator.

-Harvard.  Seems to me Harvard kicked us into the street back in the 1950s, and we survived in spite of them, not because of them.

-I haven't been accused in being young in a decade or more; thanks!  Please remember that ideas are ideas, and because they've been discussed before, doesn't mean they shouldn't be discussed again.  Times change.  The first time I actually had this discussion was with Janet Mattei in 2001 or 2002.

-No insult to KC intended!  I agree with you Jim Roe, that in the internet era, the physical location is less important than ever.  There are advantages to being around a big school, preferably with a strong physics/astronomy department.  How about Ames, Iowa?

-While staff is important, it is not the be-all and end-all.  No one is irreplaceable.  We may have our favorites, and personal friends on the AAVSO staff, but again... no one is irreplaceable.  I personally work in a highly specialized area.  There are five of us in my office, and we all do the same kind of very unique mission planning function within PACAF.  But, if any one of us left, we could hire someone with the same background, and with a month's training, they'd be productive, in three months, fully mission-ready, and at the end of a year you'd never know the difference.  That holds true for any and all staff functions in AAVSO.  You can't buy leadership, but you can sure buy technical expertise.  Please don't interpret this as me belittling anyone on our staff.  They're great folks.  I would not wilfully toss them under a bus for anything.  But, if you need a skill set, there's always someone on the market that's selling it.  We've seen people come and go on the AAVSO staff all on their own, and somehow we're still here.

-Jim Roe said "member centered".  That's a good star to steer by.  We are a volunteer organization, and to some extent a service organization, servicing the astronomical community in a number of ways.  Keeping an eye on who the customer really is, though, is important.

I hope every one is having a great Sunday.


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