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 Vassar 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 Vassar again (sorry if I’m spelling that incorrectly) — 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.

Reminder: WRA Meeting on downtown tomorrow

Friendly reminder that there will be a public hearing tomorrow, February 26, at 5:30 pm in the Levi Lincoln Chamber at City Hall for a WRA citizens advisory committee to discuss the Theater District and more.

On a related note, WoMag reports that the Chamber of Commerce has unveiled an interactive map of development opportunities downtown.

Those of you who use the McGrath Lot on a regular basis will be pleased to note that it’s tagged as a “Development Opportunity” and that those interested in developing it should contact the Chamber of Commerce for more details.

Now, I don’t think a parking lot is the best and highest use of the space that the McGrath Lot is in, but I’m not sure why someone should contact the Chamber of Commerce about developing it and not, say, the folks who actually own the property — the City of Worcester Off-Street Parking Board.

When we previously looked at the McGrath Lot, we found a rainbow of colors being used for a “green” section and an “orange” section.

We heard back from the folks at DPW a few weeks ago.  They (disappointingly) did not answer questions about whether someone who has an HP placard needs to pay if all the handicapped parking spaces are full.  But they did make it perfectly clear that folks should not park in the green zone.

At the February 10 City Council meeting, Councilor Lukes asked about the state of affairs at the McGrath Lot.

In short, the City Manager said that changes needed to be made to accommodate the QCC students.

It’s unclear why the McGrath Lot needs to be making the accommodations, or even who made that decision.

Many library staff members are not able to park in the McGrath Lot and instead park at the Green Street lot.  And, as Councilor Lukes pointed out, to add insult to injury, they have to respond to numerous questions/complaints about a parking lot that they are not responsible for, receive no revenue from, and — in some cases — can’t even park in.

My impression was that any changes to rates and parking policies should be set by the Off-Street Parking Board.  According to the city boards and commissions agenda site, this board hasn’t met since 2013.  So — who said it was ok to carve off 1/4 of the busiest, most profitable public surface lot in the city?

Whatever you do, don’t take the City Manager’s word for it.

He said that the lot is now being used a lot more than it was historically.

I beg to differ.

The McGrath Lot has consistently made money for the city, in large part due to the traffic generated by the Worcester Public Library.

Compare that to the Federal Plaza Garage, which is just as close (if not closer) to the QCC location at 20 Franklin Street, and which usually has an operating deficit on the order of $200,000 a year.  Why wasn’t that considered when QCC was looking for student parking spots?  Couldn’t it use all the revenue it can get?

[Side note: every time you pay $10 at the Federal Plaza Garage for a Hanover Theatre event, $9 goes to the Hanover and $1 goes to the city.  I suspect if all the money went to the city that owned the garage, it might actually be in the black, or close to it]

In the grand scheme of things, a parking lot next to a library doesn’t seem like much.

But this is a parking lot many of us park in when we go to the library or public meetings at City Hall.

It’s a parking lot that’s been in the sights of developers who have no sense of appropriate urban design (indoor college hockey complexes, anyone?) and that has had a section reserved for a private entity, with (as far as I can tell) no public hearing or input.  If certain folks had their way, they’d take this parcel (for a song), library staff and patrons be damned.

I don’t have a problem with the city selling monthly parking passes at the McGrath Lot, or any public garage or lot.

But let’s not pretend that fining people $25 for parking in a poorly-labeled, underused reserved section of a public parking lot means that the lot is being used more than it was six months ago.

 
(If you want to read more about parking in Worcester, the Parking Program Assessment from a few years ago is an excellent place to start.)

CWW: Free Family Concert on Sunday

Worcester Chamber Music Society will be presenting their annual FREE family concert on Sunday, March 1, at Mechanics Hall from 3-4pm.

My kids and I have been going since the first year they presented, and it is always EXCELLENT and popular — so get there early for seats!

From their website:

The stories of the vain Emperor, who is tricked into wearing no clothes, and Katy the bulldozer, who makes it possible for the townspeople to do their jobs are told through music, art and narration in this delightful concert sure to please all!

Join us for our fourth annual Free Family Concert! Bring a new or gently used book to donate to the Reliant Medical Group Foundation’s REACH OUT AND READ program. All books are distributed to pediatric sites throughout Central Massachusetts. Book donors will automatically be entered into a raffle to win a free family pass to the EcoTarium!

Don’t miss the incredible art display created by students from Burgess Elementary School in Sturbridge.

Program
JACOBY The Emperor’s New Clothes
BRADSHAW Katy and The Big Snow

Tracy Kraus, flute; Krista Buckland Reisner, violin; Joshua Gordon, cello
William Ness, piano; Rohan Gregory, narrator
With guests John Page, conductor; William Kirkley, clarinet; Robert Schulz, marimba, and a percussion ensemble from the Burncoat High School

Coes Zone Meeting This Evening

I know a bunch of folks are interested in Coes Zone; there’s a meeting tonight (sorry for the late notice). If you’re on Facebook, I recommend following the group on Facebook:

A Meeting will be held on Monday, February 23 at 5:30 PM at National Grid’s Sustainability Hub office located at 912 Main St. (Corner of Main and Hawthorne St.). The meeting of Coes Zone is sponsored by Coes Zone Ponds and Water Quality Committee, Clark University, and Sustainability Hub

Please make every effort to attend this meeting.

Please join us. There are many tasks, actions and opportunities available before Working for Worcester day – April 11 at Coes Pond Beach, Mill Street.

There is ample parking in a lot directly across the street from that office. The lot is operated by Clark University and they have allowed NG to use the space for parking in relation to Sustainability Hub events.

Boston 2024 Community Meetings

The group organizing the Boston 2024 Olympics bid will be holding 20 community meetings over 20 weeks so that folks around the state can tell them what they should already know: forget the Olympics, fix the T.

I’m really excited by the prospect of high-speed rail from Springfield to Worcester to Boston.  Why don’t we just do that and make all the necessary improvements to the T (and regional transit systems around the state) and call it a day?

The press releases I’ve read say there will be a meeting in Worcester.

It’s unclear when the Worcester meeting will be held; when I find out I’ll post it.

In the meantime, I’ll leave folks to meditate on how hosting rowing events at Lake Quinsigamond would work, considering how well traffic goes when we close one exit on I-190.

 

 

Albert Southwick at WPL

Albert Southwick with his granddaughter Naomi Maria Southwick Schwediauer (Leicester, Massachusetts - 2010)

Albert Southwick with his granddaughter Naomi Maria Southwick Schwediauer in 2010.

Author, historian & Telegram columnist Albert Southwick will be returning to Worcester Public Library on Saturday for a book signing event.  He will be signing copies of his latest books in the Banx Room at the library (just to the left as you enter the building) from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.; copies of many of his titles will be available for purchase there (cash or check only).

If you’re looking for any of his older titles (Once Told Tales of Worcester County, More Once Told Tale of Worcester County or 150 Years of Worcester), signed copies of those are available for purchase at the Food For Thought Bookstore in the library.

Mr. Southwick last visited WPL for a book signing more than a year ago; since then, there have been several new books published.  Most are collections of his various writings through the years, and there’s a new title, Leicester Recollections, which he just wrote last year.  (Rumor has it that there’s another new book in the works, and it should be available sometime before Mr. Southwick turns 95 this summer.)  If you haven’t been to one of these events lately, there are probably several new Albert Southwick books you need to acquire for your collection.

The quiet dynamo behind Team Southwick and all these new books is Mr. Southwick’s daughter Martha, who lives in Austria.  She’ll be making a rare appearance at Saturday’s event, so fans of the many Southwick books might want to make a special effort to get to the library on Saturday and meet Martha while her father signs books for you.

Albert Southwick is donating the proceeds of any book sales from this event to the Leicester Public Library Renovation Fund, with the intent to build a much needed addition to that library.  As you may know, the beautiful little Leicester Public Library building, designed by Mr. Southwick’s grandfather Stephen C. Earle in the late 1800s, is a bit small and quite difficult to access for many with disabilities.  The proposed addition will create more space and an accessible entrance from the parking lot.

Stop by Worcester Public Library on Saturday, meet Mr. Southwick, and help fund this worthy project by buying a few books and having them personalized by the author.

(Can’t make it to the event on Saturday?  Mr. Southwick’s books are available on amazon.com, and if you make your purchases through “Amazon Smile“, Amazon will donate a small percentage of however much you spend to the Leicester library’s renovation.  Not just on Mr. Southwick’s books, but any purchases from Amazon!)

 

CWW: Worcester Chamber Music Society at Clark on Saturday

Worcester Chamber Music Society Presents LA VORÁGINE on Saturday, February 21 from 7-9pm at Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts, Clark University. More info below or on the Clark Arts website.

Pre-concert talk @ 7:00 pm by Ramon Borges-Mendez, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of International Development, Community, and Environment at Clark University

Concert Start @ 7:30pm

Genocide and mas violence in Latin America are explored through expressions of cultural identity in musical works from Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Brazil that speak to the resilience and joy of the human spirit. Music by Capillas, Garrido-Lecca, Carrillo, Brouwer, Jofre, Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla. With guest artist JP Jofre, bandoneon.

Hailed as a group with imagination, style and chops, the Worcester Chamber Music Society took the Worcester, Massachusetts scene by storm with its initial concert in 2005. It has become a recognized cultural presence within the Greater Worcester area by presenting sold-out concerts to captivated audiences, receiving consistent critical acclaim, building new young audiences, and training rising musicians through both its Neighborhood Strings and Summer Festival programs.

This concert and residency is presented with the generous support of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the Traina Chamber Music Fund, Department of Visual & Performing Arts/Music.