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Cotuit

Waking up Worcester

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Cotuit    0

Waking up Worcester

Officials, investors hope $300m plan sparks a revival

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff | June 30, 2004

WORCESTER -- An urban shopping center didn't work. An outlets mall didn't either. But a new, $300 million plan to transform Worcester's half-empty downtown retail and parking complex into a thriving residential and commercial neighborhood may be the spark that the city has been seeking for 30 years.

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worcesteroutlets-presspic2.jpg

Worcester Common Outlets renderings from Berkeley Investments, Inc.

That's the hope of city officials and Berkeley Investments Inc. of Boston, which this month purchased the sprawling 20-acre Worcester Common Outlets site for $30.3 million. Berkeley plans to build 900 condos and apartments, 450,000 square feet of office space, and 300,000 square feet of stores -- about half the retail space that now exists.

"This is a new, vibrant mixed-use project," said Young K. Park, president of Berkeley Investments. "It will be a catalyst for a revival of the entire downtown."

Worcester residents have heard that last part before. But Berkeley's first entree into this city -- expected to be accompanied by an estimated $50 million in public money -- comes at a time when a half-dozen significant improvement projects are underway.

"We do not believe one new project is going to be the panacea," said Philip J. Niddrie, chief development officer of the City of Worcester. "What we're trying to do is have a series of projects that play off each other."

New Worcester Center will have 3,700 parking spaces, 300 fewer than exist in the gigantic curved white garage that dominates the east side of the city today. That reduction reflects one aspect of what is considered efficient, modern development -- putting housing near public transportation and businesses. In this case that would mean improving access for new residents to nearby Union Station, which reopened in 2000 after a $38 million renovation and has 10 round-trip trains to Boston daily.

Last week, a day after Berkeley celebrated its purchase of the outlets complex from CIGNA Investments Inc., ground was broken on a $3.6 million intercity bus terminal that will be part of Union Station.

And that's not all:

Worcester Common, adjacent to the outlets, is getting a $6.5 million facelift by the city to make it friendlier to pedestrians, including hundreds of future residents.

Two blocks north of the outlets, the state broke ground last week on a 400,000-square-foot courthouse that abuts Main Street.

And, next door, Fargo Management LLC of Springfield is planning to break ground in August for a $22 million, 200-room Hilton Garden Inn. The hotel will connect to Worcester's successful Centrum Centre arena and convention center.

skybridge.jpg

Skybridge between Hilton Garden Inn and Worcester Centrum from City of Worcester's website

A new 500-car, five-story parking garage is planned near Union Station, serving commuters and patrons of the restaurants and shops that officials plan to lure to a handsomely restored but almost vacant train station. The station has only two substantial tenants, the Union Blues jazz and blues club and a restaurant, with room for many more.

City officials are paying Sasaki Associates Inc. $160,000 for what they call an economic development action agenda. The recommendations, which have already incorporated Berkeley's plans for the outlets complex, are to be released early next month.

"The big concept here is to reintegrate that area into the fabric of downtown," said Park. Half of Front Street was eliminated in the early 1970s, when the Worcester Center Galleria mall was built, and it will be restored.

The semicircular parking garage will be lopped off, and a medical office building added. An underground garage of 1,000 cars will be built to restore some of the eliminated spaces.

The decision to get rid of a large part of the garage that walls the entire area off from Union Station and the city's growing eastern portion is a big victory, said Alex Krieger, chairman of Chan Krieger & Associates, which made a similar recommendation as part of a Worcester renewal plan about 10 years ago.

"That was the last time Worcester tried to pick itself up by its bootstraps," Krieger said yesterday.

No one thought people would want to move to Worcester's depressed downtown 10 years ago. But today there's demand. Niddrie said almost 70 percent of prospective home buyers in the Worcester area are from Boston and its western suburbs -- drawn in part by the increased train access to Boston. Worcester officials hope that the 10 round-trip trains will increase to 18 soon.

National Development of Newton is building a $40 million luxury apartment complex, Arbor Point, near the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park, a little over a mile from downtown.

The idea of the Worcester Center Galleria, planned in the 1960s, was to serve residents in a region that was devoid of the kinds of malls that had drawn life from cities elsewhere. Filene's, Jordan Marsh, and Kennedy's all moved off of Main Street and into the new mall.

As malls with acres of parking were put up in quick succession in Auburn and the Greendale section of Worcester, to the north, the Galleria ceased to draw patrons.

"That was the beginning of the deterioration of commercial Main Street activity," said Niddrie.

Filene's left in the 1980s and located later in Auburn. Jordan Marsh followed Filene's out the door. New England Development purchased the site and opened the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets in 1994. But the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets soon drew customers from a market Worcester thought was its own.

The stores that lease space in New Worcester Center, to be built in phases over the next five to seven years, will be a combination of modest-sized stores and shops, catering mostly to the local population and -- unlike past concepts -- not dependent on thousands of shoppers driving into downtown.

North of the new courthouse and hotel is an 11-acre brownfields site that is being developed into Gateway Park, a 1-million-square-foot bioresearch park and mixed-use project, by Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Worcester Business Development Corp. The first building is expected to open in 2006.

If new regulations are approved next month by a council created by the Legislature, municipalities will be able to issue bonds for expensive improvements within designated districts and pay them off with taxes from developments that are generated.

Worcester is expected to be the first city in the Commonwealth to take advantage of the new financial opportunity.

From The Boston Globe

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Cotuit    0

Worcester Common Restoration

common-t.jpg

View larger version

The Worcester Common Restoration will consist of potentially three phases of construction funded through Land and Water Conservation funds, matching City of Worcester funds and Federal Highway Administration/MassHighway TEA-21 funds. The estimated cost of the Worcester Common Restoration is $5,800,000.00

Phase One of the Worcester Common Restoration Improvements will focus on the Common

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Cotuit    0

Berkeley pays $30.3 million for mall

Price is lower than expected

Bronislaus B. Kush

T&G STAFF

WorcMall.jpg

This photo from Feb. 13, 2003, shows a typically uncrowded day at the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets. (T&G File Photo)

WORCESTER- The Worcester Common Outlets - once considered the crown jewel in the city's downtown revitalization effort - was sold for the "bargain basement price" of $30,350,000, according to the deed filed recently with the Worcester District Registry of Deeds.

City officials and some brokers of commercial real estate privately said they were not surprised by the mall's "fire sale price tag," given the shopping center's inability to draw patrons or quality stores.

Berkeley Investments Inc. of Boston purchased the 20-acre complex from Hartford-based Cigna Corp. and plans to demolish almost the entire retail component and create an urban village.

Demolition is expected to begin next spring.

When the deal was announced, sources estimated that the mall, located from 100 to 200 Front St., was sold for $30 million to $40 million.

"We thought Berkeley got a good price, but we didn't think it was that low," said one city official.

Besides the mall's financial difficulties, officials speculated that the shopping center was sold for a cheaper price because Cigna - facing its own economic difficulties - wanted to sell the property as quickly as it could.

The deal included the retail mall, the two profitable office towers, the accompanying parking garages, and two vacant development parcels.

According to the deed, the property was conveyed by William S. Woodsome, trustee of Worcester Center Realty Trust, to Worcester Renaissance LLC, a Delaware limited-liability company associated with Berkeley.

For tax and assessment purposes, the complex is divided by the city into three parcels, with a total assessed value of $38,199,700.

If the mall were financially viable, city officials said, the complex would have sold for well over $38 million.

According to City Hall records, the larger office tower, with an address of 100 Front St., is assessed at $17,163,500. The other office tower that is home to Flagship Bank, at 120 Front St., is assessed at $11,026,900.

Meanwhile, the mall, at 200 Front St., has a value, by the city's estimate, of $10,009,300.

"There's no question the problems of the mall had an impact on the final price," said Councilor-at-Large Michael C. Perotto, chairman of the council's influential Commerce and Development Committee.

With the low price, Mr. Perotto said Berkeley will be able to pay off the complex's debt service with revenues from the office towers.

"With the price they got it for, Berkeley's going to be able to invest in the mall's makeover," he said.

Though Berkeley's been welcomed with open arms, some city officials would still like to be better informed about the firm's plans for the site.

Mr. Perotto, for example, said he plans to file an order for the council's meeting in August, asking that city administrators meet with Berkeley officials to discuss predesign plans.

Mr. Perotto also wants a specific team from City Hall to work directly with Berkeley planners.

"This project is going to have a tremendous effect on the city and we have to be on top of things," Mr. Perotto said.

Berkeley Investments, an arm of the Berkeley Group, has a real estate portfolio that includes 2.6 million square feet of office, industrial, and research and development space. Its target market includes New England, especially the Boston area, and Washington, D.C.

Berkeley - in partnership with Starwood Urban Investments - was one of four parties that were seriously considered by Cigna as buyers.

The other three reportedly included Liberty Properties, which wants to develop part of the former St. Vincent Hospital complex on Vernon Hill into 180 apartments.

Developer Michael Belfonti, the New Haven investor associated with the purchase of the former Bancroft Hotel and the Park Building at Main and Franklin streets, was also considered in some sort of partnership, as well as a group headed by Westboro lawyer Christopher Senie.

The mall was built during Worcester's urban renewal effort of the 1960s and early 1970s, and was originally known as the Worcester Center Galleria.

The complex had its retail ups and downs and was retrofitted in the early 1990s as an upscale discount outlet mall.

The new concept worked for a while but business once again plummeted.

From Worcester Telegram & Gazette

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Benhamin    0

I'm really psyched about all these developments. I hope the make Worcester the city it is capable of becoming. I nearly came when I heard about these projects.

Foundation work is still ongoing on the trial court, and the Common restoration is progressing nicely.

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Cotuit    0

It's going to be great to have so much housing on the common.

With the frequency of T service into Boston making it easy for people who work in Boston to live in Worcester, and the much lower real estate prices out there, I think Worcester's future can only be good.

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KRC    0

As soon as I shrink my pics, I will have an update on the Trial Court's progress.

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That would be great to see. I lived in Worcester for a few years in the 90's. It's a nice place, but just can't seem to get it's act together. Almost every development winds up hurting the city more than helping. I need to get up there soon.

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Cotuit    0

This is the first time I have posted my own pics on the internet.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Good stuff, we need to see more Worcester now!

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ALEEJAC    0

The metal frame being built on the lot for the new Trial Courthouse seems very far away from Main Street. I assume they'll fill out most of the block, instead of having a massive setback like that... right?

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Benhamin    0

I really don't know what they are planning to do with the setback. The bulk of the structure is off of Worcester Center Boulevard, surprisingly. The only thing I can think of is that some of that space is for the new hotel to go up later this year.

It has now reached it's max height. I'll try to get some new pics soon.

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ALEEJAC    0

Yeah, I think I'm getting a little hazy on the projects going on there. If the hotel you're talking about is the Hilton Garden Inn http://www.worcestermass.org/development/hilton.html, I think it will be constructed between the new courthouse and the parking structure on Worc. Center Blvd.

I had assumed that the courthouse would be right up on Main Street since they say it will "reinforce the spatial character of the City's Main Street" (according to the same website).

Oh well, it's not done yet. So I guess we'll have to wait to see what's going to happen.

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Cotuit    0

I think it's reasonable for a Court House to have a front courtyard space. It's supposed to be a majestic municipal structure. Many court houses are set back and still work well, I wouldn't be too worried about it. The rendering looks like a good structure and not a suburban monstrosity.

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ALEEJAC    0

That's true, a well designed courtyard or park-like space in front would be appropriate for the courthouse. I'm just afraid of another parking lot there. Main Street's missing buildings are obvious like a smile with teeth knocked out.

With the construction of the Hilton and skybridge a block away, this part of downtown could have a decidedly different and pleasant modern feel than the rest of Main Street. I hear you and I'll stay optimistic.

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Benhamin    0

I'd be happy with a courtyard or nice looking public space there, but I was also expecting it to be closer to Main St. Maybe they designed it this way for security reasons partly?

Thanks, that is the Hilton that I am thinking of.

I really think that the new developments will change Worcester for the much better. The Common Outlets redevelopment hasn't even happened yet, and the Worcester Commons reconstruction is well underway. They are also improving a lot of roads in the city, such as I-290 and Rt. 146 and several terrible intersections are in the redesign phase. Hopefully, they will run more trains to Boston soon too.

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KRC    0

I lived in Worcester before moving to Providence and it was a hot item when I left in 1996. At the time, the argument was about how it would work with Main Street and help to enliven downtown. Worcester has some sad, hard lessons to use as examples of what not to do.

Worcester has been remaking its downtown since I can remember. I was living in the Park Plaza building when they remodeled Worcester Center into the outlet mall. When I left, the convention center was just getting started.

It's nice to see the city continuing to remake its image. I liked Worcester. It's a nice place to live and I was sad when I left. However, development in that city is, and always has been, disasterous. I have seen with great pleasure that they are going to get rid of Worcester Center. Thank God! If they could somehow do to the railroad like Providence has, that would help out alot. Green Street (is that the one that goes from Worcster Center Blvd. to Kelley Square?) is like another world from downtown. What they did with train station and Washington Square is nothing short of spectaular. That was a win-win even if it's underutilized today. I'm sure it'll get busier.

There was a lot starting to happen when I left. I hope to get up there soon to take a look at all the changes.

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ALEEJAC    0

I used to live in the Park Plaza building, too. I work close to downtown and I didn't have a car back in 2002-2003. I could go to the supermarket, work, malls, CVS, busses/trains to Boston and Providence, movies (at the Bijou) all without a car.

Worcester has its faults, but I lived well. Plus, there were some killer views from the rooftop of that building.

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Benhamin    0

More development news:

Gateway Research Park at WPI Receives $2.5 Million Grant

An artist's rendering of the first new building to be constructed at Gateway Research Park at WPI:

gateway.jpg

A $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, announced on March 29 by U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, will play an important role in the development of Gateway Research Park at WPI, an 11-acre mixed-use, life-sciences-based campus being developed jointly by WPI and the Worcester Business Development Corporation.

The EDC grant, which was awarded to WPI, the WBDC, and the city of Worcester, will support the development of parking for Gateway Park's first new building and future buildings. Construction of the new $20 million building, which will include 120,000 square feet of space in a new four-story structure at 60 Prescott Street and an attached renovated factory building at 68 Prescott Street, is expected to begin by summer.

Source: http://www.wpi.edu/News/Features/gatewaypark.html

Worcester is slowly starting to catch up with the rest of the nation in terms of redevelopment.

If the weather is good the next few days, I'll get some shots of this area and also update construction shots (it's cloudy today with rain in the forcast tonight :( ).

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ALEEJAC    0

I'm not sure if this has it's own thread somewhere, but the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has some cool construction going on downtown too. The old Graphic Arts building on Foster Street is being gutted and turned into their Living and Learning Center. They will be adding a new top floor, to make it 9 stories tall.

MCPHS Construction Press Release

There are renderings of the finished work on signs at the construction site. It looks very nice, trust me. The architectural firm is:

Perkins + Will

Cotuit, I promise I will get pictures soon. :)

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Benhamin    0

^ Ah, so that is what that is, thanks for the info.

Once I resolve the problems with my image hosting and the weather clears up, I will have more pics for all. Promise.

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Cotuit    0

Cotuit, I promise I will get pictures soon.  :)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Once I resolve the problems with my image hosting and the weather clears up, I will have more pics for all. Promise.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I can't wait. :)

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oliver    0

Does anybody have an update on the Hilton Hotel and on the City Square? Any time line when they are finally going to start the City Square project?

I can't wait, right now Worcester's downtown is just dead.

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ALEEJAC    0

Does anybody have an update on the Hilton Hotel and on the City Square? Any time line when they are finally going to start the City Square project?

I can't wait, right now Worcester's downtown is just dead.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I drove by the area on September 8th and steel beams for the frame of the Hilton had reached about 2 stories tall. Next door, the Court House has some of the exterior done. I don't know anything about City Square.

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