Notes from the Theatre District Community Discussion

Well over 100 people attended – I’d guess 130-150

(Before I get started with notes — I saw so many of my friends and acquaintances here tonight — in addition to the folks I know from the library board & Friends, I saw Juliet Feibel, Cathy Walsh, Jim McKeag of the Downtown Neighborhood Alliance, the incomparable Bob Q., Dee Wells, the wonderful Steve Mita, and perennial gadfly Jo Hart.  It was great to see you all!)

Steve Foskett livetweeted.

Update,1/24: His article (“Residents review downtown Theatre District master plan”) is up [$].  Rachel Brown — another friend I saw last night — is mentioned, as well as Steve Mita (who was, as always, really great) and myself.  (Another friend of mine was also impressed by Frank Carroll’s advocacy for the library.)

Update: Worcester Business Journal coverage; Worcester is Major post

The plan is here.

Let me know if you have any questions or clarifications.

Cathy took a picture of how packed this meeting was; it was upstairs on the landing; she was in a section where they had to add more seating, and there was still standing room only:

hanover_theater_discuss

Tim McGourthy – “all you need to do is create a little controversy in the paper” – impressed with the turnout.

“How do we create vibrancy…capitalize on assets” that exist already, create new ones for generations to come.  “don’t want to create individual islands of success” – “drawing the connections”

looking at  all the uses, see how they work together, how they work for vision for downtown.

Right now, looking at master plan – not necessarily zoning land use – more about vision and strategic plan for implementing that vision.

“This is not a debate” – here to hear public’s comments about what would draw you to this area.

Met with over 17 property owners in the area, Hanover Theatre board, library board – to see what they’d want to see happen.

not about building just public spaces – public and private uses.

This would go to City Council, Economic Development Committee for further discussion.

Craig Blais – board of directors conducted a strategic plan in 2010- decided that it was time to start fourth chapter of WBDC.  Time to look at downtown, how could WBDC lend itself to city in effective way and with great impact?

They looked at five areas, settled on this area – connects well to CitySquare, etc.

Following strategic plan, board authorized $150k to do a market study, existing studies report, and master plan (implementation plan) to guide development in this area.

“Leading with our private dollars … hope to be bridge to future private investment”

“Here to listen”

Skip Smallridge from CSS – goes over the same presentation we’ve seen a few times.

Councilor Lukes – very exciting plan, concepts we have been wrestling with for years.  Cultural – moved from Green Street to Main Street, now close to City Hall.  Concept of hockey rink is not appropriate for inclusion in the plan.  Quote that appeared in WoMag – what is relationship between city, WBDC, and WRA?  Who is final decision maker?  Whose meetings do we attend?

McGourthy – this is a district wide plan, not a parking-lot plan.  This is join plan between WBDC and city.  This plan does not have a hockey rink in it.  What you’re looking at is a building envelope on the McGrath Parking Lot.  We are trying to create density – density means people, it means activity.  Parking lot is remnant of urban renewal.  Addressing parking is a goal in planning any vital urban area.

We have a vacant area where we need to create more activity.  This shows opportunity.  We have always viewed library parking lot as opportunity for development – the City Council is the only one who can approve disposition of city property.

It would be a completely separate process – a proposal to sell and disposal of property: Off-Street Parking Board, followed by City Council.

While we have cooperatively worked with WBDC on vision for the site – no one is advocating for that.

A lot of the media coverage on the plan has focused on

Craig Blais – “Nothing sinister going on as it related to development to proposed hockey rink.  … We were meeting with groups that were interested in developing, [existing property owners], but we did meet with colleges and universities. … Hockey rink idea came up and was discussed. … Am I meeting with private investors…? Yes, I am… I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t doing that.  If anyone’s looking at something owned by the city [he lets them know] that it’s owned by the city [and there’s a process to follow].”

Councilor Palmieri – absolutely thrilled that they’re having the meeting today.

Jimmy O’Brien? – On behalf of board of Hanover Theatre – of the members who are here, they endorse the spirit of the plan.  Their main concerns revolve around three basic areas: parking, access from Myrtle Street, and the area blocked off for a garage they have an agreement with the Telegram for their premium members to have parking.  They are encouraged by concept on Federal Street.  Feel very strongly that WBDC and the city should do everything it can to develop the building next door.

Judy Finkel, library board – they are very excited by this development – extension of Federal Street to the library.  Lots of parking – but she isn’t really responding to the master plan.

Frank Carroll – talking as a taxpayer and building owner in the area – they have gone through a significant tax increase in 2012/2013 – all of your surveys indicate that parking was the #1 issue for any business wanting to expand or move to the city.  Doesn’t see it as good policy to take the lot next to the library.

Carroll, continued – happy to hear that two hockey rinks will not be going into the area.  Would be concerned that the people would not gain if the city gave away the library parking lot to the benefit of a small group of special interest people.

Councilor Economou – asks about the location of Fourth Street.  CSS says it’s not near the Warehouse District.

Deb Packard – PW liked the angled parking, increased housing, wants to see if design standards can be included in the plan as well.  Felt a skating rink was not the best use of the property.  Enthusiastic about passive ways.  Were not enthusiastic about demolishing buildings to put in glass box.  Also concerned  about access to the back of the theater.  Interested in what the priorities are in the plan.

McGourthy – no #1, #2 priorities

Deb Packard – on board of Mechanics Hall – they are concerned about some of the development here

Jonathan Noble – what hasn’t been said: this might go through and a bulk of the new business coming in would be chains and outside businesses – not local ideas.   Feels that for the legacy of a place like this – needs to be homegrown.

I spoke about a bunch of items you’ve already heard about.

Jo Hart talks about a shuttle or streetcar – “people are terrified without their car” – doesn’t like the “demolishing” of the triangular park in Federal Square, removal of seating, etc.  “Master plan from a czar” – create parking because you want people to come downtown and then all they see is parking garages.

Susan Smith, formerly of Foothills – excited about there being a theater district downtown, looks forward to a time when more than one theater makes up a district.  Heard Tim say he wants to see collaboration with the district, hopes Mechanics Hall will not be left out of the equation.  Hopes that this will be mindful of small places in the district, like the Theater Café.

Jennifer Rydell with Worcester Shakespeare Company – have you talked about public transportation?  Every single bus has a stop at City Hall – could the bus system be brought into the plan a little more?  Really wants to see a walkable city, where you can take a bus in, walk around, get things done, take the bus back home.

Tim mentions the bus hub at Union Station.

Nathan Pickens, YMCA – main concern is that this would be a lot of money to build.  He doesn’t see a lot of people of color working on the jobs that are happening in the city.  Wants them to think about including local residents who cannot get on those jobs to work.

Also mentions the $25 deposit at the ice skating rink being exclusionary.

Dante Comparetto – shares a lot of his colleagues’ sentiments.  Concerned about what surrounds the library, and development that works for the library.  Would like to see better connections between the YWCA and the library.  Wants to encourage them to consider the public input that happened at their forum last week.

Jeremy Tulio – lived in Worcester about a year.  Spent two days at lunch looking at the plan, moved here from Somerville (Porter/Davis).  Lack of athletic facilities.  For his demographic, that’s something they looking for this.

McGourthy – “not sure if you’re implying something about my demographic” (laughter)

Tulio – want intramural sports leagues, etc.  Athletic club like Boston Ski and Sports Club.

John Wilkes, faculty at WPI – was interested to see what theater district looks like – but it only has one theater.  If it’s an arts district, why exclude Mechanics Hall and Worcester Art Museum?  Also, transportation connections.

[I think the district is mis-named, and that is causing at least some of the confusion]

McGourthy – responds, it’s about starting something to leverage something in other areas.

Peter Schneider – wants to talk about the library and parking.  Parking requirements for a library are different from other parking requirements.  Having to drive into a 3-4 level garage is an impediment to use of the library.  He uses the street parking before meters were put in.  (He says it was 30 minute, but it was 15 minutes.)

Don Reid of Ben Franklin Bookstore – wants to thank them for ambitious plans.  Two questions and one comment.  Where are the students who are going to be residents of the buildings.  We have the Goral Building where nothing has happened for several years, vacancies next to the theater on Southbridge Street.  Would like to see the WBDC put something into the project before tearing down buildings.  Other question: no one seems to be talking about the Paris Cinema.  It would be a good addition if it were renovated.

Rachel Brown – concerned because the Commission on Disability and other access groups have not been consulted.  Four specific recommendations:

1)      Walking surfaces: bricks are an accessibility barrier.  Stamped pavement rather than bricks or stones.

2)      Strong lighting

3)      Traffic signals, including crosswalks, include chirping

4)      Strong use of park benches, good for people with mobility issues, elderly, nursing mothers, useful for keeping people downtown

Jim McKeag – overall, likes the plan.  Have already begun to incorporate some of the comments from various groups.  Has a question about Allen Court area – where they are proposing taking down two buildings.  How does that work as Allen Court if they make the connection to 20 Franklin Street?

McGourthy – in the study, it’s looked at as a flyover or a ground level.

McKeag, continued – didn’t see much mention of the employees downtown and there are a lot of moving pieces to make capacity to make this happen.  One area that is unfulfilled is a need for daycare.  Would like to see that addressed.

McKeag, continued – saw that a movie theater in the basement of the Midtown Mall in an earlier iteration of the plan.  Has anyone does any outreach/studies on movie theaters, as well as other theater groups in the city?

McKeag, continued – can we retain historic character of the black box building?  Also, in situations where you’ve seen neighborhoods that present similar challenges, what has worked?  (He is directing this question to CSS)

Smallridge – developers will tell you that in mixed-use developments, certain things come first (hotels never do).  Housing first, retail follows.  There are lots of creative techniques – Providence did a lot of stuff in arts district with tax incentives for artists.  Paduca, KY – did a relocation program for loft housing.

Another person from CSS – having early action items.  [Except there’s nothing like that in the plan]  WBDC taking over the Telegram building is one good start.  Lets developers know there’s support for plan and serious intent.  These plans happen very incrementally, but it can start really early on and builds on itself.

Smallridge – regarding the locally owned businesses, that contributed to the success of Fourth Street, Cleveland.  Lowering rental rates for locally owned shops.  Ditto Kendall Square.

Randy Feldman – those yellow areas are the potential development sites.  Asking about parking.  Tiered parking versus flat-surface parking – what are advantages and disadvantages?

Smallridge – surface parking – you feel safe, you can see how many spaces are available.  With new garage technologies, it can tell you how many spaces are available.  In a parking structure, there’s no snow on the car.  You can’t increase density and new development without trading the surface lots.

Smallridge talks about the importance in parking of lighting, good design, and knowing someone is watching.  (Small police substation, etc.)

An unnamed gentleman comments – commends efforts – would like connections to Mechanics Hall, Green Island/Canal District, Crown Hill.

McGourthy – before urban renewal, Myrtle Street connected – there could connection to Washington Street.

Steve Mita – more of an economic plan than a physical plan.  Reinforces that we need to tighten up the plan and look at the design elements.  Kendall Square is an example of a dead area because no one considered specific retail at beginning stages.  You have to be specific about footprints for tenants.   Merchandise plan – mix between destination retail and convenience retail.  Under current conditions, it will be empty unless there’s a specific merchandise plan.

Major Taylor Blvd – never looked at specific plan for retail in the garage, now it’s empty.

A lot of design issues that need to be looked at.  A lot of references to Fourth Street – it’s a street, there are storefronts on both sides.  What drives Fourth Street is not just it being an alley – there’s other activity around there.

600 units of housing – how will that break down.

Vague leaves too much up to interpretation – then developers will go their own way.  It’s 1/3 and we should go the next step.

Smallridge – Kendall is 60s urban renewal – it’s their biggest mistake and now they’re trying to retrofit it.  The scale of the streets and buildings is there.   The phenomenon of Fourth Street works even without the original catalyst.

Jo Hart – she’s talking streetcars.

We close – Tim is blown away by the number of people here.  Hockey rinks pull people to the floor.  Still looking for comments – Jackson Restrepo is the recipient of comments.

Craig Blais likes the idea of discounting the retail spaces they own.

They should have announcements very, very soon.

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5 thoughts on “Notes from the Theatre District Community Discussion

  1. Walter Crockett says:

    Thank you for this reporting. Very valuable.

  2. Sprout says:

    Per Tim McGourthy – Send all your ideas and comments to: Jackson Restrepo, 508-799-1400 x 262, RestrepoJ@worcesterma.gov

  3. Gabe says:

    Thanks, had to work late and couldn’t make it. A lot of my questions were answered.

  4. […] Library parking lot discussion continues. Nicole and Dante, fresh from a meeting, fill us […]

  5. Sean says:

    Nicole- Thanks for posting your excellent notes from this, and many other meetings I can’t attend. It inspired a few posts of my own today.

    http://unfashionablesentiments.blogspot.com/2013/01/downtown-redevelopment.html

    http://unfashionablesentiments.blogspot.com/2013/01/walking-and-painting-downtown.html

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