WRA Hearing Liveblog – February 26

Just got here and the meeting is beginning.

Michael Traynor will be giving a brief talk about the WRA, citizens advisory committee, and then will introduce the consultant

It’s a healthy turnout — 50 or so people in attendance.  The meeting will be recorded (audio) but not televised, I think.

Michael Traynor: There will be a series of hearings at the WRA level, one at planning board, one at City Council.  They will then submit plan to state to approve the urban renewal plan.

One of the things required is “meaningful public input.”  Creating a citizens advisory committee is one way to do that; members are residents or stakeholders.  The WRA will look to this committee for guidance and input along the way.

Traynor introduces Jeff Fasser from BSC Group.

Urban renewal is not what it used to be — targeting the properties that are underperforming, working with property owners who need a little extra assistance.  Some of the benefits of urban renewal plan is that it’s an “implementation strategy”.  Unlike the Theater District Master Plan, this will define certain actions that will take place at a certain time, certain cost, to move area forward.  Helps property owners feel comfortable and secure.

Enables the WRA, if necessary, to act like a private property owner or developer.  If need to assemble properties together to develop, they can do that.  In addition to private investment, there may be a need for public investment to support that.  An urban renewal plan can outline what needs to be done from a public perspective as well.

What goes into an urban renewal plan?

We do a complete inventory of all the property in the area to identify everything there, conditions, history, etc.  The state requires certain information to be in the plan, they will pull that and then expand on it.  A budget is developed and funding sources identified.

State Dept of Housing and Community Development will be the ultimate approval.

Heather Gould of Economic Development office discusses the Theater District Master Plan.  I will take a break for my fingers at this moment unless there’s anything new, which there shouldn’t be.

The goals are: create district identity, identify properties that need improvement, city can provide streetscape improvements. “mixed-use district anchored in institutional growth” = have colleges invest in downtown, bring down the young folk.

“We need more people living in the downtown” – they will work downtown, shop downtown, participate in downtown life.  Young professionals and empty-nesters especially, private and institutional investment.

Primary development opportunities identified in the master plan: 20 Franklin Street; opportunity for parking structure in former T&G lot; renovation and redevelopment of MidTown Mall; redevelopment of McGrath Parking Lot; renovation & rehab of Park Plaza; renovation and restructure of former Filene’s and PASOW buildings.

Jeff Fasser again — walking through maps

The essential goal is to make it as dense as once it was.

At their next public meeting there will be a lot more analysis and plans.

Where they are in the process: pulling together analysis and public input, start talking about goals and actions that will be recommended to the public, eventually develop a plan that goes through local approval and then to the state.

Expecting process will go into the fall for local approval, with the goal of submitting to the state by late fall

Pedone: Members of citizens advisory council here tonight: Frank Carroll, Jack Donahue, Jill Dagilis, Paul Demoga

Allen Fletcher – railroad creates a huge divide (not his words) — if they can do something wonderful with Wyman-Gordon complex, that would be great.  Curious and a little worried as to what the advantage is to have part of what would naturally be the Canal District in the Theater District

Pedone – over the course of the last year, WRA has been trying to be more open and transparent than previously.  They felt including W-G site in this would be helpful from both a city and state level.

Jeff V. – there was a lot of discussion about this.  The railroad does create a boundary.  Any way that could tie W-G in with the downtown would be good for both, so that barrier does not continue to be a barrier for economic development purposes.  Also, Heather showed a slide of the walking distance between the Hanover and various areas; within 15 minutes lots of vacant land that could be good from a pedestrian perspective.

Russ Burke (sp?) from BSC — urban renewal process could provide some public initiative/incentives/push to get ball rolling on W-G.  Including that might prove to be an interesting linkage between Canal District and the downtown.

Jeff V. – preliminary exploratory discussion with the state office — they strongly encouraged enlarging district to include W-G.

Fletcher – if you can make something good happen at W-G…can’t imagine connectivity would take any other form that walking through Green Street bridge.  Can rep from Canal District be on citizens advisory committee?

Bruce (didn’t catch last name) from Alpine Property Management – if you want people to live in an area, there are a couple of things; parking could be an issue, but there are Zip Cars, etc. so you don’t have to own a car.  Within area, may want to consider that.  Also, bike rentals.  Supporting people who live in the area needs a certain infrastructure.  Bike share.  Walkable, viable grocery store.

[For the record, I think the master plan mentioned that stuff]

Jake Sanders, Worcester Public Library – they are looking forward to working closely with you.  Thanks for making this public.

Charla (?) Matthews – Community Development Officer for MassDevelopment – celebrates that WRA has been reactivated and celebrate the urban renewal plan.  Thanks public for engaging in the process.

Mary Keefe, state representative – urban renewal needs to include community development as well.  Would encourage starting to think about more students, but let’s not forget the people who live here [now] and cross downtown every day.

Question – how fixed is the boundary?  Answer: not fixed yet

Q: Is Lamartine Street included?  Answer: Yes, but the portion that includes W-G only.

MY FELLOW HOPE CEMETERY COMMISSIONER Dick Perry – They have family in Burlington.  For the last twenty years, they’ve said Worcester should be like Burlington.  They’ve closed off 8-10 blocks and the place is thriving.  Glad Worcester has started the process by attracting college kids downtown.  Something Worcester will build on.  Worcester could emulate Burlington; we hate to pay for parking.  Burlington has made the first two hours gratis in some parking garages.

Mauro DePasquale from WCCA – They want to be engaged in this process, and want to know what they can do to help, and how this plan can help them.

Tim McCann – Member of Worcester Historical Commission.  A little worried that he didn’t hear about any of the historic resources in the district.  Glad to hear that there doesn’t seem to be the scorched earth policy of the 1960s.  They would like some input into this process.  Esp. for property owners to take advantage of historic tax credits, etc.

Also, problems with one anchor tenant vs. diversity of tenants.  Part of success of the Hanover is that the success drove out some of the small local independent theater (Foothills, etc.)

Questions about marketing the area

thinks there is still an (unfounded) prejudice against downtown; a lot of effort should be emphasized on lighting.

I spoke and Jo Hart did as well.

John Giangregorio – you may need Canal District on the board.  Best urban renewal plans when citizens are involved.  Discussion of opening the canal.  Building the canal will generate more spinoff than an urban renewal project or a theater.  Worcester is now part of a new national park.

Robert Branca, property developer in area – various properties are for sale but not really for sale due to excessive prices.  Could this have assistance for folks who want to buy properties?  MCPHS is getting bigger, not smaller — can we get some of that activity over here?

The meeting is wrapping up and I am going to need to go — thanks for following along & I will post links to recordings when I see them.