Random theater district history

(I’ve decided I can’t spell it “theatre” — my fingers just don’t work that way, and I have to backspace out when I type it with an “er” — so “theater district” will be how the blog refers to it from here on out.)

As I’ve been preparing some comments on the theater district plan, I’ve come across a few things that other readers might find of interest.  As always, my trusty tool has been the Proquest Newsstand, which I access using my library card.  Don’t leave home without it.

From the Telegram, December 7, 2006, “Hanover gives $2M to center; Performing arts facility”, by Bob Kievra:

City officials and business leaders said the theater should result in $40 million in direct and indirect spending annually in the city.

“We stand here today as a testament to believers, to those who see a greater vision for our city,” City Manager Michael V. O’Brien said. “There is a great sense of pride when the ‘can do’s’ deep-six the ‘won’t happens,'” he said.

As folks may recall, there was recently a figure (quoted in the Telegram, December 2, 2012, “Worcester development officials seek collaboration: Downtown is focus of meeting”, by Jon Towne) that the “Hanover Theatre generates about $13.5 million annually in economic impact in the city.”

Some of us are not “won’t happens”; we simply want realistic numbers rather than pie-in-the-sky estimates of economic impact that will never happen.  There’s a big difference between $40 million and $13.5 million, and these sorts of overestimates are a Worcester staple.  Recall, if you will, that we were told MedCity would generate between $5-6 million in taxes annually, and its successor, St. Vincents, barely generates half that (and that’s a combination of property and sales taxes).

The previous proposal for developing the McGrath lot was mentioned at the last library board meeting, and someone mentioned it to me recently.

Around October 2001, there was a request from the City Council for an RFP concerning possible development of the lot.

You can read about the proposal in the article “Housing proposal one way to attract people downtown”, T&G, February 23, 2003.  The proposal was for a 320-unit residential development, with an underground garage.  In that article, it said “city officials have met with representatives of the Worcester Public Library’s board of directors, the Off-Street Parking Board and the City Council.”

My impression is that the library board was not pleased with this proposal (though I don’t see that directly reported in the T&G).

A year later (July 11, 2004, “Mall owner asks to shelve proposal for Library Place”), the proposal went no further — at the request of Berkeley, then-owner of the mall property:

Paul V. LaCava, director of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services, said last week the new owner of the Worcester Common Outlets mall, the Boston-based Berkeley Investments Inc., has asked city officials to delay issuing the RFP to avoid a potential over-saturation of housing in that area.

For the record: I think the McGrath lot should be redeveloped.  A surface lot is not the best use of that space.  I think the parking should remain owned by the city, and be as affordable as possible.  As long as it remains undeveloped, there will be people who will propose various projects, and I’d prefer that there be discussions about what we want to see — rather than a reaction each time a project is proposed.

3 thoughts on “Random theater district history

  1. Brad Wyatt says:

    Was just out in Butler, PA with my wife’s family. Small, older mini city, similar to Clinton. All storefronts not empty. The obvious difference, FREE two hour parking downtown on the street. Wouldn’t that be nice to not worry about getting a parking ticket, searhing for quarters, etc.

  2. Jim Kersten says:

    Thanks Nicole – great perspective.

    Brad – While I agree that free parking would be great everywhere it doesn’t seem practical in an urban setting. It is possible in smaller municipalities, like Clinton or Butler, but not in an urban center like Worcester. We must balance the spaces for people to park for quick trips/errands and where people park for the day while at work.

    Parking is a major issue – not just because of the old adage of “Worcester’s Parking Mentality” – but rather if done properly it drives everything. We should look at successful places like Portsmouth, NH that has a centralized town owned parking lot.

  3. Brad Wyatt says:

    Just wanted to clarify – it was only free for two hours. Plenty of time to run in to a store, browse, shop, and then leave, without worry or hassle of a parking ticket. (I’ve had at least a half dozen tickets, from stopping in to the Worcester Tornadoes office, having lunch at Uno’s, and including, my favorite, when City Manager Mike O’Brien went over the time at a Research Bureau event at MCPHS. No fun worrying about running out to feed a meter)
    If someone was parking for work for the day, they would clearly need to park in a parking garage. The free parking is for shoppers/buyers.
    It’s just a comfortable feeling knowing you can park for free, which would attract shoppers. What about just running a free 2 hour parking trial program next December, to encourage people to shop in Worcester.

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