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CitySquare at ‘Pivotal Moment’ as Phase 1 Expands
Worcester residents have been hearing about CitySquare – one of the largest development projects in the state’s history – for years.
There have been hiccups along the way in the estimated $565-million project, but the talk has been put into action as crews continue to rip through the area where once stood the Worcester Common Outlets with its majestic, glass-roof atrium.
Adding to the momentum was City Council approval earlier this month of an amendment to the District Improvement Financing (DIF) program, clear and significant progress is being made on one of the largest and most ambitious development projects in the state’s history. What long has seemed like a silent project is making a lot of noise and people are – or soon will start – seeing the fruits of millions of dollars worth of labor.
“We are,” said Timothy McGourthy, the city’s Chief Development Officer, “at a pivotal moment in this project. A lot of the work going on was invisible for a year. Now there is a movement toward visibility.”
One of the most visible should come around mid-April, he said, when CitySquare breaks through to Front Street (Mayor Joseph Petty had predicted a March timeframe). The city will host a grand opening at that time, said McGourthy.
That should be music to the ears of many locals, including 33-year-old Yi Shan, who admitted to knowing little about the project.
“I really don’t know much,” he said when stopped on a sidewalk alongside Worcester Common this morning. “I do know a lot of money has been spent.”
While the project carries a price tag north of $500 million, officials acknowledge that figure remains fluid, and McGourthy said the cost currently is about $200 million.
Shan and others now will start seeing precisely where all that money – which McGourthy confirmed includes about $94 million in combined city and state funds – has been going, with the amendment allowing for work originally slated for future phases to proceed.
With council approval in hand, the amendment now requires a final OK from the state Economic Assistance Coordinating Council, which is expected to vote March 27.
“It’s key to being able to include most of the public infrastructure work,” said McGourthy.
Specifically, the amendment allows a modification to the District Improvement Financing District, which was established in 2005 and became the first such designation in the state, and expands the Phase 1 project. Plans originally included the demolition of the east portion of the old garage, along with the mall, to allow work on the Unum building and Mercantile Street.
With state approval, the Phase 1 project will include the connection of Front Street to Foster Street and Union Station and the complete construction of Trumbull Street, along with a portion of Eaton Place. Plans for a Front Street bridge over an underground garage are scrapped under the amendment.
At its completion, the full phase will consist of the Unum building; the Vanguard/St. Vincent’s Hospital cancer center; full construction of Mercantile, Front and Trumbull streets as well as part of Eaton Place; temporary facades on three other buildings; and property for future build-out.
The project has cleared hurdles that included trying to “secure the private financing needed to move private development forward, which would move the public development forward,” said McGourthy.
In short, the city needed tenants, the first of which came in the form of Unum.
Even with progress, people like Shan are likely to still see dollar signs. They will also see revenue, with an estimated $81.5 million in total Phase 1 DIF tax revenues through 2043. Those estimates are based on a combined approximation of $93 million in assessed values, through 2043, for the properties involved in Phase 1, including the Unum building ($30 million assessed value when complete) and the Vanguard/St. Vincent building ($22 million assessed value when complete).
As expansive as the project is, it is but one piece of a much larger vision for the city, which, according to City Manager Michael O’Brien, has a goal of making City Square a “pedestrian-friendly block … linking our neighborhoods.”
The ultimate goal, he said in a memo earlier this year to city councilors, is to create a community, of sorts that incorporates nearby developments such as The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Sciences, The Hanover Theater for the Performing Arts, Union Station and Washington Square.
“CitySquare,” said O’Brien, “will not revive the Downtown alone, but it will serve as a catalyst for future development and investment. It will ultimately be the sum of the parts and our ability to ensure that these connections are made that will foster and support the economic vitality of the Downtown.”
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