Leaving well enough alone

When we last left the Krocks, KJ Baaron’s was scheduled to move to West Boylston Street, and the Central Building was slated for demolition in early 2014.

We’re all a few months older now, and I see that KJ Baaron’s has indeed moved out of its Washington Square location, freeing up a prime parcel for the city’s plans to create the world’s thinnest hotel.

Meanwhile, many people — including Dan, whose post I recommend you read in full — are concerned about the possible demolition of the Central Building (332 Main Street).

In a perfect world, a buyer would come to the table, the Krocks would willingly sell, and the building would be renovated and occupied.

Certainly, the Krocks were willing to sell some of their other buildings in the past — among them the Slater Building (390 Main Street) and 365 Main Street (the former WCIS building) — but they have also had a long-term interest in demolishing the Central Building and have previously torn down Flagg’s Building (where the notorious “Park Here” trucks are located).

Since we don’t live in a perfect world, it’s unclear what will happen to the building.

Preservation Worcester has a FB page for the Central Building; if you’re interested in saving the building, I recommend liking (or otherwise following) that page.

In “other downtown buildings in turmoil” news, there was both a T&G article (“City considers using eminent domain to seize Midtown Mall“, by Shaun Sutner) and a Dianne Williamson column (“Midtown disaster needs to come down“) in Sunday’s paper.

It should come as no surprise that the city has had the Midtown Mall in its sights.  The Theater District Master Plan said the mall was “not responsive to downtown existing office clientele”, which seems odd for a building that has many tenants and — unlike the buildings adjacent to it — rarely has a vacancy in its ground-floor retail units.

It’s no secret that I’m friends with both Brad Wyatt and Kevin Ksen, mentioned in the article, and, like them, I’m skeptical of taking someone’s private property by eminent domain simply because the property owner refuses to play whatever game of ball the city has on offer.

Frankly, if I owned the Midtown Mall and it was valued at $3 million, what would the incentive be in improving the aesthetics?  I’d have to pass on the costs of improvements to my tenants — who rely on the cheap rents Midtown Mall offers — and I’d surely see my property value jack up even higher.

In the past week, we have seen a TIF offered to a company that is going to tear down the historic Odd Fellows building [$].  That’s right — we can incentivize a demolition of an iconic Worcester building, but we can’t find a way to incentivize renovation of a key downtown building.

The Central Building is months away from being demolished, but the city fathers are talking about taking the Midtown Mall  by eminent domain.  That’s right — it’s ok if another building on Main Street becomes a parking lot, as long as the WRA can take a building owned by the uncooperative Mr. Marcus.

The city pushed out the Paris Cinema, and we’ve been stuck with a vacant building that has become a beige cube for years.

We knocked down the mall and opened up Front Street so that we could have mixed use development.  Unfortunately, the city’s definition of “mixed-use development” consists of various companies’ fiefdoms with little ground-floor interest for pedestrians, vacant lots, and two intersections that vary between frustrating (Washington Square) and downright dangerous (Front Street adjacent to the Common).

Now the city has revitalized the WRA so that it can right past wrongs — or, at least, create more current wrongs so that we forget all the past ones.  And keep various hacks gainfully employed.

A city full of white elephants (the courthouse, the Aud, etc.) and barren wastelands (CitySquare), whose design aesthetic consists of “which shade of beige would be appropriate for that hideous building”, has no right telling a private property owner that his building should be taken by eminent domain.

This city has a horrendous track record in taking private property and “improving” it.  In the case of the Midtown Mall, it wouldn’t even be that ambitious — to take a small business incubator by eminent domain, and invest millions of dollars to turn it into … a small business incubator, albeit one that appeals to whichever demographic we’re seeking.

Physician, heal thyself.