Library District Task Force Meeting 3 Liveblog

(Book People Unite, obviously.)

There are at least 13 members of the public and media here already.

Steve is livetweeting it.

7:01 – Judy Finkel opens the meeting.

The WBDC has asked Carole Schlessinger of Crosby/Schlessinger/Smallridge (currently stuck on the Mass Pike) to present something about planning.

Judy is discussing the purpose of the library district task force; they hope to “at least have some strong influence” in the immediate neighborhood and broader neighborhood.

She notes that the attendance here is really good; I will note that this is what happens when meetings occur at a more convenient time.

7:06 – Tim McGourthy – “we are here to talk about a planning area.”

“About a strategic plan, a master plan for the area…to create the vitality this area demands.”

Cooperative effort between the city and the WBDC.  WBDC tackles difficult topics that but for their involvement would not move forward.

Discussion of Hanover — how do we build on that?  170k Hanover, 600k library.

Working with WBDC, discussed joint planning process.  Added value to planning process – WBDC went forward and purchased property in the area.

7:08 – how do we take the tools of the public sector, the tools of the private sector to move this area forward (sorry, that’s a bad quote)

listened to concerns about lighting, cleanliness, safety, etc.

We’ve come to the library to discuss – have talked about street activity, how the library is laid out, urban design issues.

“We’re not here to talk about a skating rink per se, we’re here to talk about a master plan for the district”

Concept that bubbled up was a need for hockey to serve various institutions.  We’ve heard a lot of input – it is not a master plan effort, the master plan will not say to use the parking lot as a hockey rink.

It will discuss possible uses and how they could build on the library, and the district.

We are here to talk about a district plan.  That project is separate from a master planning discussion.

There will be a public discussion at another meeting to comment on the master plan.  At that point, the plan will go to City Council.

“At the halfway point of this discussion…we’re not done yet.”

question about timeframe for the process — McGourthy says it is not final yet.

“This is a difficult area…[and that’s] why it’s been a difficult area to develop.”

“You can have probably 20,000 people in downtown in one night [between DCU, Palladium, etc.] and yet people don’t connect to each other. … That’s the piece we want to connect to.”

7:16 – Roberta Brien from the WBDC will begin to speak to a presentation.

[It is now packed in here – a few more people have joined]

WBDC – has a significant investment in the Hanover Theatre, “frankly we expected the private market to jump after the renovation.”

Brien – they waited, decided to continue with the Hanover, and the T&G building came up for sale.  Spoke seriously with the city – “single development in this area is not going to spake the kind of redevelopment that is needed in this area.”

Proposed redevelopment of the area, but city said CitySquare is first priority.  Complementary uses to CitySquare.

“People can see folks in CitySquare utilizing those resources” and look in the Theatre District for complementary uses.

This presentation is a revised version of this one, for those following at home.  I will not type where the presentation matches.

7:22 – The facade of the T&G building is horrible, and they will be working to fix that.

Continuing with presentation.  Mayo – residents like units and convenience of being downtown but (as library patrons would say) nothing to do.  Isolated place to live.

We’re on the Challenges part of the presentation.  You can look on at home — nothing more that’s breaking news.

Brien – “Worcester loves their parking.”

Discussion of cost of structured parking versus surface parking.

Action Agenda (we’re on page 10 of the original presentation).  Last bullet point is now “Programming for Food and Fun” (where it was “Attract Retail and Restaurant Uses”).

“Worst-kept secret in Worcester” – that WBDC is trying to secure QCC as a tenant in the T&G building.

Mayo hopes to put restaurant on Federal Street.  Spaces already planned for retail that have not happened yet.

There’s a map of where they would have market-rate and student housing.

Their plan to go over the Printers Building.  The natural connection (Brien says) is through Mayo’s garage.

She is discussing the existing parking in the area.

(Very difficult to write about points on a map; my apologies)

Carole Schlessinger from CSS is here and was the planner (?) for Gateway Park.  She will go through a vision piece, final part of Master Plan.  How to go from wealth of data to what you make in the district.

Then they will get feedback from district plan.  They will not say what any parcel should be, but give it some parameters.

building size, scale, fenestrations, etc., all critical to master plan.

Carole Schlessigner – Skip Smallridge is the designer, she is the urban planner.

McGourthy notes that part of the thinking about the master plan is to build density close to transit hubs.

Skip Smallridge begins the presentation.

Constructed 3-D image looking down Federal Street from Main Street.  They will talk mostly about Federal Street.

Idea is to create tightly compressed pedestrian street lined with food/entertainment/retail.

Talking about closing off part of the street near Hanover.  Entrance to Hanover from Federal Street.

Example of Fourth Street in Cleveland.  Almost exactly the same scale, happened somewhat spontaneously.

Happened over the course of a decade.  Same idea, also called Fourth Street, in Louisville.

They shut off the traffic to the street.

Why Federal Street?

  • WBDC controls half the frontage.
  • The only street in the district that is or can be a two-sided street with active frontages and free-flowing pedestrian movement.
  • Degree of intimacy and sense of closure — that is, an outdoor room.
  • Within 100′ of the exit from both the Hanover Theatre and the new black box theatre.

The black box theatre is a venue for the repertory theater.  I will reserve comment on this.

New Buildings allow more flexibility than renovations for some specific uses.

Discussion of pedestrian walkway to get through the megablock.  They are studying doing it through the Mayo property (which Steve Mita proposed in his plan).

“It could be done and is technically feasible” – “lines up on axis to Federal Street and takes you to the library”

Highlights potential black box theatre on part of the Telegram building – large open, glassed in.

Brien mentions a group of Friends of Professional Theater – with Foothills going away, etc.  Merrimack Repertory Theater is moving to be Massachusetts Rep Theater, 350-400 seats in black box theatre, there’s a cost savings in running it in both Lowell and Worcester.

[Because Foothills was so successful.  Sorry, editorializing!]

“Should the MRT not select our space, this … space makes excellent conference space.”

Idea is that you could enter black box theater building from Allen Court or Main Street.

Allen Court – example of what could be done is Boylston Place in Boston.

Library/YWCA/Parking Parcels – straighten out Library Lane (I think) about mixed use.

If it were some sort of active space that didn’t take up whole parcel, it could have a small parking garage.

Heard there was more interest in making bookstore more prominent. Perhaps bump the library out on the right to the main entrance and put in the bookstore there.

Post Office Square Boston as example for cafe  space in the area.

7:58 – Suggestion for plaza with food trucks on it.

Talk of a creative route and a creative culture within the district.

Proposal to move YWCA playground and expand it a bit.  This is good.

MidTown Mall mentioned – what could go in there?  Different kinds of arts uses, gallery, arts studios, small theater.

McGourthy – what you are seeing is very much a draft.  We’re not here to defend a master plan, to hear what people think about concepts in the plan.

In central spot, about 147 spots needed for both YWCA and library.

WBDC does not agree with Tim – WBDC feels that additional angled parking on Salem Street would help accommodate parking.

I am with Tim — the WBDC is on crack.

8:04 – Dante Comparetto – wanted to follow up from last meeting – we made it clear we do not want to see a hockey rink.  We made it clear we wanted to see some mixed-use in the area.  He thought about use of the library parking lot.  In the most recent issue of Library Journal, discussion of makerspaces.

No room in current building for makerspace, but could be in a mixed-use across the street.

Library is not open late all nights — a makerspace (or community space) could be open later for community groups.

“We should be the community bridge that brings people together”

Jim Kersten – with reductions for the library – we did a study – lots of patrons are here for extended period of time and do not use short-term parking.  That would be a privatized lot and the city would have no control in the pricing.

Example of Portsmouth NH – cheap parking encourages people to get out.

“Public institution, public lot” – wants to ensure that long-term the customers can access the library.

Also wants Tim to advocate for food trucks more.

Susan Gately – loves ideas Dante spoke about, but a challenge to support.  What we need is a building or place that can be supported by something, and hopefully private development in one way or another.

She would look forward to more study on parking – thinking in terms of more people coming to the library, would we need to anticipate more parking?

She loves the idea of Federal Street and opening up to the library.

Smallridge – you’d need to move the stairs a little bit.

(laughs)

Gately – likes viewpoint of moving things in that way.

Comparetto – discussing makerspace – there should be apartments above it [to respond to her concerns about private development] – community space could be a partnership or a space the library leases.

Mauro DePasquale, WCCA – looks forward to a broader discussion of the area as a whole.  Worcester Center was established and local businesses died – lot of redundancy.  WCCA is a creative space – provides a lot of amenities that Dante was discussing.  Would hate to see redundancy (with regard to creative spaces).

Kevin Ksen – concerns about gentrification and mitigating plans.

McGourthy – will speak to gentrification in general.  Part of the reason retail has not come here is because we’re in one of the poorest blocks in the city.

What we’re looking at doing is crating mixed-income areas. Part of broader scope.  Four units of affordable in 541 Main Street (old Filene’s bldg).  Haven’t gotten into the specifics of the plan – not sure how the residential fill fit out.

Land-use planning, not about demographic planning.

Brien – feels the quality of housing is important – in an area where market rates are so comparable to subsidized rates, it’s really standard of living that they’re trying to address.

Ksen – thinks gentrification in area of library should be discussed.

Brien “would love to have that problem.”  Doesn’t think it’s a bad word – shows it’s an area where people want to be.

Dana Remian – parking issue aside, likes the plan.  One of the things that came to his mind is if there’s a possibility for an arts or culinary arts school.

McGourthy – aside – Dream Center purchased GAR Hall and plans on a culinary school there.

Chris Robarge – thinks that there’s some promising things in the plan.  Folks who came forward with original proposal – anything that happens out there needs to be a net positive for the library, and that was not the case with original proposal.  “It didn’t feel like it was a plan that was put in place to enhance the library.”

Still concerned about parking situation.  Concerned about number of spaces and rate at which (and periods at which) parking will be available.  If you increase prices, decrease spaces, library could be negatively impacted.  One weekend night, often a full lot because of the price and convenience.

We’re talking about this as if it’s a private parcel.  It’s not – we own that land.  In all circumstances, not a bad thing.  Transfer of public land to private – we don’t ever get that land back and we will not be able to get public land back.  Our ability as citizens to be able to control the rate and amount of parking.

McGourthy – master plan looks at public and private development.  Vision layer added onto reality that different people own land.  Before parcel goes anywhere, would go through Off-Street Parking, City Council, and a disposition process.  We’re going to vision for that lot, but it might not happen for twenty years.

Martha Assefa – remember what average family has to spend in Worcester.   She’ll never be able to afford to go to the Hanover.  Excited to go downtown and hang out, but consider affordability.  With some of the ideas, would be priced out of them.

Jim McKeag – liked the last comment – a lot in the plan that he likes.  He hears a lot of different ideas and elements that people are throwing into the mix – need for open discussion for what community envisions for the area.  Hasn’t happened yet – master plan and then discussion is not a good process.  Hear what community has to say and then make the plan.

McKeag likes making center of parcel in library lot a focus of activity.  Smart Growth and transportation centered development – one thing missing in that view is a comprehensive citywide master plan.  Is there any way we can envision what we want to be before we start a planning process that might negate some of those ideas.

McKeag, continued – plan with very definite boundaries – the plan itself does not address what happens outside those boundaries.  Beacon/Federal planning process – some of the needs out of that plan are addressed, some are not.  Problem with Southeast corner here, but most people are coming here during the day.  Myrtle back to Madison – look at that as an artery.  Has anyone looked at pedestrian-friendly routes through McGrath?

Linda Cavioli – YWCA – most she has seen of the plans – opens up area, likes that YWCA is seen as an asset.  It would be helpful for them to have some economic development in the area.  Those opportunities have not been available, this plan sees the YWCA as part of the whole area.

Gabe Rollins – moved down here four years ago in the hopes that something like this would happen.  Has a lot of things to say, not a lot with the library.  Can there be more meetings like this where he would have a voice?

Mary Keefe – we all know that there were tremendous mistakes made in the downtown.  Question about Pleasant Street – not included in the planning, lower part is architecturally significant and there is a theater (not open) and two nightclubs in that block.  Keep that in mind.

Goes to Jim’s idea of connecting.

Jim McKeag, again.  [Jim, you can talk all day as far as I’m concerned] – One of the things that we sometimes forget is that we have needs that don’t require us to develop the big parcel right now.  Little things that could be tackled before bigger projects – loves the idea of having the lot developed according to the community’s needs, but doesn’t see that as a priority right now with vacant storefronts, etc.

So many people come downtown to work and go to the library – how do we get more people to enjoy more amenities downtown?

Brien – we have agreed to not compete with CitySquare – request from colleges was to fill an existing need.  We’re responding to the need that’s been spoken to.

(Sorry, lost WiFi at 8:45; I will try to write a post tomorrow summarizing the meeting.)

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