Here are my notes from the first hour of the hearing; I could not stay for the whole meeting.
I would like to note that only three members of the WRA board attended this meeting. I know people have conflicts, but when you are talking about the potential of property taking by eminent domain, it would have been nice to have a full board in attendance. I’ll link here to any articles I see about the meeting.
Vincent Pedone, Steve Rothschild, Dave Minasian (labor rep appted by CM Augustus), they have a quorum so moving forward
Order of Hearing:
Elected officials to speak (Dan Donahue, Mary Keefe, Joe Petty, Gary Rosen, Moe Bergman)
WRA staff and BSC group will give presentation, explanation of finances of plan
Timeline, introduced by Pedone: City Council directed CM O’Brien to have WRA to start embarking on urban renewal plan. Up to $500k for this exercise. In 2014, bids through RFP for consultant to assist in putting the plan together. Community Advisory Committee, headed by John Brissette, had 10 meetings over the course of 8 months, received feedback from those in the zone. City Council passed request to include the Wyman-Gordon site.
Shortly after that, CAC expanded to include some of Southbridge Street.
At end of meeting, will take a vote to move this plan forward. But this is not the end of the process.
WRA meeting a week from tomorrow (Friday the 13th) to discuss topics brought up at this forum. Input greatly appreciated.
Ask to limit comments to three minutes, submit written testimony.
Mayor Petty speaks. Thanks everyone for their hard work. Half a billion invested in downtown, another step in making this a better city.
Pedone continues to talk about economic growth in the city. This plan will tie it all together. They are completely open to making revisions to the plan.
CM Augustus, opening comments: thanks everyone for their time and effort. Some of us who live here do not appreciate the scale of changes that have happened over the past 20 and esp past 10 years. Lot of property owners identified who are good people who care about the city but may not be able to afford changes. Eminent domain is a scary thought, but isn’t the first goal of this plan. Really is the last resort. Brings attention to these properties.
Augustus, continued: Advocates people ratting on their neighbors who have property in disrepair. Downtown analogous to that situation.
(My older son notes that these comments have now lasted longer than three minutes.)
Rep Keefe: Excited to hear what folks have in mind tonight. When we talk about urban renewal, a bit of PTSD. Wants to hear more about the public process for feedback. This is transformational – less about destruction and more about renovation and investment.
Pedone: phrase urban renewal is scary, so (1) this authority has gone out of its way to make sure everything is public, (2) this space overlooks successful urban renewal space. (By this he means the hospital.)
Gary declines to speak: “This is the public’s night.”
Mike Trainor now begins to go through a PowerPoint overview of the plan, Heather Gould and Jef Fasser (BSC) will both speak later.
Why Urban Revitalization?
To be a stronger, more vibrant downtown. Economic engine for the whole region. Strategy is to approach properties where private sector has not invested in them. “These are the tough ones.” 24 properties plus first floor of Denholm’s.
Code violations, out of date code, brownfields vacant for 20 years, upper floors vacant, obsolete buildings private sector not willing to invest in. Bring confidence to existing property owners, those who want to invest in Worcester.
Urban Renewal Plan by law has a 20 year shelf life.
MedCity: taxes: $27,000 in 1993, $5million in 2016. What we spent and what has been returned has been a 30% return on investment
Introduces MGL about urban renewal. Currently 26 active, approved plans in the Commonwealth, 18 of those are in Gateway Cities.
One active urban renewal plan in Worcester is Union Station. They were able to use land in that area to the Homewood Suites hotel.
Heather Gould of Economic Development to discuss the DIF District.
This project is a great example of successful public/private urban renewal partnership. Two different property owners, two different developers (Mercantile Center, City Square proper). City has spent $90 mill for demo of mall, street network, site prep, rekindling the urban fabric that once existed. 550 space underground parking garage, will make parking more accessible. Approximately $300 million in both projects in private investments. Up to 370 units of market rate housing, AC Marriott hotel.
They are basing this on the Theater District Master Plan.
Transformative Development Initiative from MassDevelopment. Worcester was chosen – focus is on Theater District. Aim is to make the district a bustling hub of activity, where people want to go after work. This is its own initiative but fits into Theater District Master Plan.
Jef Fasser of BSC Group – walkthrough of the plan.
Looking at improving gateways into the downtown, aesthetics, building stock.
12 & 22 Front Street (Mid Town Mall). There are a lot of small businesses in that building, they don’t want to chase small businesses out.
17 Pleasant Street (former Olympia Theater). It would be a challenge to turn around a large space like the theater and pay back the investment needed to take. Recommendation is to demo.
66 Franklin Street, Paris Cinema. Boarded up, investment is not really likely.
517-521 Main Street (Metro PCS, Great Wall). Upper levels have not been used in years. Façade improvements also needed.
484 Main Street (Denholm Building). Upper levels are well-utilized. All are individual condominiums; much of the bottom floor tenants have not been successful.
518 Main Street (empty parking lot next to Denholm; picture is pre-mural).
538 Main Street (Money Stop). Upper levels not used in years. Would require major investment to turn that around. New restaurant, that’s the kind of thing we want to encourage.
35 Portland Street (parking lots behind Hanover). Partner with other property owners to put in garage.
McGrath Parking Lot, Salem Street: lot may provide development opportunity in the future. No immediate action.
Wyman Gordon Parcels at Gold Street.
149 Washington Street. Used as flea market on occasion.
Wyman Gordon, small Lamartine parcels. Begins to transition to Green Island neighborhood.
300 Southbridge Street, Miss Worcester Diner and large building (beautiful but in tough shape).
4 Quinsigamond Ave (flea market, tattoo).
346 Southbridge Street (Hurricane Betty’s)
I’ve found that “prime development area” = “evict longtime taxpayers”
City has grant to pay for improvements on Quinsig Ave and Main Street. They want to tie all this in to plans.
Pedestrian level improvements – sidewalks, lighting, safety, make the alleyways a place for pedestrians to walk.
Total project cost: $104 million. Of this, $82 million would be needed. They have identified potential funding sources.
Public comment period:
Recognizes Konnie Lukes and Sarai Rivera
John Brissette: asks the others who served to stand. Process started in Fall 2014 comprised of a group of stakeholders. Public forum at Crompton Collective in Feb 2015. Another public hearing at City Hall. Talked a lot about small businesses.
Jill Dagilis: they worked really hard to listen. She is a city resident and property owner, WCAC executive director. She is a huge fan of Worcester. Believes this is a good plan, vibrant development and revitalization is good for all of us.
Frank Carroll: congratulates CM on his explanation of what is going on with redevelopment program. Glad Tim Murray was mentioned as well. Has been in business on Main Street for 28 years. (He reads some remarks which had been discouraged. Hey, some of us need notes!) He remembers the opposition to this building (DCU Center). We need private enterprise in order to keep our taxes down.
Non-profits don’t pay taxes, private enterprise pays taxes. Discusses how out-of-town property owners need to do more than just collect rent. Other property owners should step up to the plate and not expect the city government to pay for the improvements.
Tim Murray of the Chamber of Commerce: if every property owner were like Frank Carroll, we wouldn’t need to be here.
Gateway Park, Shrewsbury St, Canal District, all public/private partnerships, all focused on mixed use.
Chronic problem properties for a long time have been targeted by this plan.
If we are going to leverage the public and private partnerships, we need to address these properties. About engaging property owners, taking is a last resort. Put primacy on rehabilitation.
Troy Siebels: success of his buildings is dependent on his plan. Concerned that it does not go far enough. There are other properties that might require more work, plan just addresses low-hanging fruit. Asked if there are other properties: yes, in the immediate 500 block, the Denholm Building first floor most critical.
Deb Packard: is this a static plan? Can areas/buildings be added? Preservation Worcester understands that not every building can or should be saved. They are concerned about demolishing two historical theaters in the downtown (Capitol/Paris Cinema: has heard it’s in bad shape)
Packard, continued: in terms of demolition delay ordinance, is that still in place for a year?
Very concerned about Olympia Theater. She was in the theater less than a month ago. She is reminded of what people said about the Hanover Theater ten years ago.
Putting her library hat, Pres of the Library Board. They are very enthusiastic about opening the front door. However, parking is a concern, patrons have children, strollers, elderly, we might lose them, important downtown institution.
Trainor: idea of any development is longterm thought process. Wants to increase parking availability. They will not leave the library with less parking.