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.

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9 thoughts on “Leaving well enough alone

  1. epb says:

    good to have u back, nic
    lots to ponder
    a) didnt the KJ Barrons owner raise some major stink about something AFTER the rotary was put in? (even though there had been dozens and dozens of notices hearings before the building took place?)

    b) midtown mall–where are these tenants ready to jump in and raise the profile of the midtown mall? starbucks?

    Why are the city fathers so eager to get back into the mall business? havent they had enough pain?

    c) telegram bldg/QCC–I thought this was a good opportunity to create another mall-like/pedestrian friendly zone –especially since its clientele will be the coveted 18-24 year old crowd the CIty wants to woo so much

    d) Empty parcel at City Square–re the one closest to Green Street–my dream for this is that it becomes home to some sort of mega-food court that REQUIRES diversity in its offering, ethnic places that reflect the diversity of the city of worcester. A little bit of Highland and Richmond street etc

  2. epb says:

    PS–do I have to get the boys from Pat’s towing to, um, persuade KJ Barrons to do the right t’ing? Do with me what youse want.

  3. deacon1949 says:

    i liked it better when old front street was there,downtown was booming then they started redevelopment and look at downtown now,,what a joke

  4. michael gaffney says:

    30 percent commercial tax rate means no one can afford to develop or improve their property. You want a TIF? Add 20 percent to your construction costs. Don’t want to cooperate? Eminent domain! (And a hit job from the local paper…)

  5. frustrated citizen says:

    And the WRA is led by ??? Another former politician with no private sector experience, and certainly, no project development experience. Ultimately, the city taxpayers with be stuck with the bill. Hey Worcester, try taking a look at Lowell, a city growing by leaps and bounds, and with an architecturally significant past that the city has not abandoned.

  6. nick says:

    Right now there’s an empty storefront right between the Harrington corner D&D and the midtown mall. Looks quite nice from the outside, I think some work was done recently but can’t speak to the details. It seems to me that this unit is a good proxy for the hypothetical future redeveloped properties in what’s now the midtown mall.

    Forget about the empty acres of prairie land downtown, until this place rents why would anyone think there’s sufficient private investment potential make for a successful ED/redevelopment project?

  7. gayle says:

    I would like to add this in the hopes that anyone that write about the Krocks hold on the city, don’t forget that they also own the the vacate (homeless, crime ,drug ,invested ) land abutting Beaverbrook park (multi million dollar investment)and Park Ave . The city willingly lets Krock leave it overgrown with vegetation more then a foot long which is against the law and hides crime and hinders developement on Park Ave. The city helped in doing a deal on a small lot that holds a bank now on Chandler(making Krock money) and then closed its file on the rest of the lots. No wonder the Krocks can be quoted as saying “lets see what the city will do for me”
    I feel a lot of things go wrong with this city because the city likes to deal with small groups so that people can not organize to see the whole picture. I agree with lwhat Lowell has done comment but I don’t think this city is going that way but is heading more like Detroit.

  8. Wow, had NO idea so much of the vacancy was due to one family. Such a shame. Even went in the new liquor store location a few times and thought it was nice, but hope they get their act together for the city’s sake, this is crazy.

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