Friday, December 31, 2010

First Night Worcester 2011 - No Shuttle Service - Trolley?

I was planning out our activities for First Night Worcester 2011 tonight when I realized that there will be no shuttle service to help you get to/from the various activities. I have no problem walking between the various sites myself, but the snow and relatively uninviting pedestrian experience that is downtown Worcester means that most people will drive between venues. Trust me, getting three small kids in and out of their car seats in full winter dress multiple times is not something I look forward to - it was nice to park once and use the shuttle.

The lack of shuttle service got me to thinking if the proposed Downtown - Canal District Trolley Line might serve as a possible substitute. Here's what it would look like superimposed on the First Night Worcester 2011 map:
First Night Worcester 2011 Map with Proposed Downtown - Canal District Trolley Line Superimposed
 Seems like it would fit in nicely with the existing venue locations. Free boarding with your First Night button, no car seats/snow filled sidewalks to deal with, a ride down a snow covered Main St. on a restored historic Osgood Bradley trolley car past City Hall and the Common, and easy connections to Union Station where you can park once and possibly either continue on the Trolley to experience the Canal District restaurants and nightlife or transfer to the Airline for service to Shrewsbury St. and all it has to offer!

Happy New Year.......

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jim M. Ventures into North Main St.

Jim M. sent me his thoughts about the AT&T Building at 175 Main St. downtown:

The AT&T Building at 175 Main St. (Image from Google Street View)
There have been a lot of developments and positive activity in the
North Main Street
area these past few years, but despite the continuing successes there is still a lot of discussion of what to do with the herd of white elephants at
Lincoln Square
, and we may see some interesting ideas on the table soon. The State is slated to auction off the old courthouse on January 19, and the City Council approved the transfer of the Auditorium in November. Both of these buildings feature prominently in the City’s North Main Economic Development Strategy which was completed in 2008 and envisions office/retail space in the former and museum, theater and war memorial space in the latter. I believe both the buildings deserve regal treatment worthy of their austere architecture. While I question the effort to develop more commercial and retail space when downtown is already underutilized, I think any effort to bring residential units into the courthouse would be a strategic and economic blunder. The courthouse—even more so than the Auditorium—begs to become a museum. I will try and address some of the reasons why I think this is the case in a later post, but I will give the idea of turning a good portion of North Main into a cultural district a hearty vote in the affirmative. Now I’d like to turn attention to one of the other elephants; not the police station, which is undeniably a hopeless atrocity, but to the other hulking, bunker-esque structure, the AT&T building. The 2008 North Main Economic Development Strategy recommends retail space on this parcel, and the public sessions reflected a general bewilderment—and amazement—that something so impersonal and ugly was ever allowed to be built on
Main Street
in the first place, and there were many comments informing that strong desire to knock it down. I think there’s an alternative, and one that extends the spirit of adaptive reuse to a distinctly modern architecture and could add some significant green space to boot.

Okay, so here it is: an aerospace museum! Well, maybe leave the “aero” out and just have a museum of space. Worcester--as everyone who lives here is well aware—has some very important connections to space exploration (Robert Goddard, anyone?). I’m sure WPI, Clark University, the David Clark Company and others could do an admirable job in helping at a modest beginning. Some solicitations from NASA might also go a long way (Norton Company’s (now St. Gobain’s) advanced ceramic group, Wyman-Gordon, Honematic and David Clark all have--or had--some pretty decent connections there, not to mention WPI, and Clark). Not to seem ridiculous, but put a couple rockets, capsules and satellites outside, create some green space around and on the building and you might even give brutalist architecture a half-decent name. And who--tell me--who does not like rockets and space gizmos? Who is not fascinated by or does not harbor some primal curiosity about the cosmos? People travel far and wide to come see this kind of stuff! When I was kid you would have lost all self-respect if you travelled to Washington D.C. and did not visit the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. Such a museum could function as an educational institution, perhaps in conjunction with WPI’s aerospace engineering program and the Goddard School of Science and Technology. Besides, it fits in perfectly with North Main as a cultural destination spot and could be the springboard for the adaptive reuse of the other vacant buildings in the Square.

The building itself is a blank canvas; you could do practically anything you wanted to it without obscuring views or ruining its integrity. You could put an interactive weather station on the main roof if you wanted, and gardens on the lower ones. Banners and other large images would work remarkably well. Imagine three images painted on the surfaces of the front “grill” that came in and out of view depending on your approach or point of view. People would actually want to look at the building! Can you imagine? If I remember correctly (and I may be getting things mixed up with the old Bell Telephone Building on
Elm Street
, or just be completely wrong) the building houses an actual exchange tower, which would be perfect for a segmented rocket exhibit that you could walk through on various levels. This museum would certainly be easy to advertise; it would practically advertise itself. The biggest hitch here is I don’t know of anyone in my circle of friends who are looking to found (or fund) an aerospace museum. The second biggest hitch is the interior layout; I have no real idea what it’s like or if it can accommodate such a use.

But however pie-in-the-sky the idea seems, I think it has real merit and is worthy of exploration. New Mexico (where Goddard moved in order to pursue his research in private after he was deemed a nutcase for his ideas) has a similar museum ( And, of course, the cosmos is infinitely fascinating and there would never be a shortage of exhibit ideas or new material and information. The possibilities run the gamut from mankind’s earliest musings on the heavens through the study of the sky and space exploration to fascinating theories that drive scientists of all disciplines to newer and greater discoveries to this day.

Is this at odds with the Ecotarium? I don’t think so. They have already made the change from a general science museum and redefined themselves within the context of the biosphere. In fact I think they would be the necessary starting point for an endeavor like this as they have the expertise. I envision a shuttle between this museum and the Ecotarium, perhaps as a separate leg off the “airline” at Plantation Steet. A close relationship with the Boston Museum of Science would also be a must as well.

If the idea of a museum dedicated solely to space and space exploration is too hard to swallow, then how about a more general museum of science and industry, like the one in South Chicago or Portland, Oregon? Or how about a museum dedicated to biotechnology and the life sciences? My only fear here is this would be perceived as too similar to the Boston Museum of Science and you wouldn’t get enough draw. No matter what the approach, it’s also expensive, but you don’t have to start big, you need a good plan to grow steadily and wisely. This would also be a terrific opportunity to involve students with a variety of science, business and architectural projects.

And what about this: no flights out of the airport? Get a decommissioned space shuttle parked up there and who needs Jet Blue?! People would be booking flights from all over the country just to come and take a tour! Alright, maybe that’s a bit too far out (nonetheless, I think we should aim for the Atlantis orbiter, seeing as it was named after a two-masted research schooner that sailed out the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on the Cape).

A link about the State’s STEM program and NASA’s summer of innovation grant recipients (WPI being one of them):

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dinner, Drinks and a Show Downtown (or, If I Had a $1000000......)

The Hanover Theatre is great, I've been to a number of different shows there over the past few years and enjoyed myself every time. (In fact, there's two more showings of "A Christmas Carol" this week, directed by the Hanover Theatre's own Troy Siebels. Check it out - I have, you will be glad you did!) What kills me, however, is the fact that we can't get a restaurant interested in the Goral Building space next door.

The Goral Building at 551 Main St. (Hanover Theatre in the background right)
My first thought is with the Theatre there and pretty much no other sit down dining options available within a 5 minute walk of the Theatre, this would be a no brainer. Sure, I know the economy has had an impact on restaurant openings, but we have a handful of solid established operators here in Worcester and I would think there would be at least a few operators out of Boston, Providence, Hartford or other northeast cities that would see the potential that the Goral Building presents.

I can't help but think sometimes about what type of restaurant I would build if I had the time and a $1000000 to burn.....
  1. Build it small: The temptation is to build it big to handle the crowds pre and post show. I think that would spell doom in this case because the Theatre is dark two out of every three nights of the year, and most of their shows happen in the Fall, Winter (quiet in January) and Spring. So I would build a smaller space (maybe two of the four storefronts, 50 to 75 seat dining room plus 30 to 40 seat bar) that would not feel like a ghost town 243 days of the year. Sure, you will likely have to turn some people away on show nights, but they will then make the point of coming back on a night when there is no show, which is exactly what you want (need).
  2. Help Your Restaurant by Helping the Theatre: Just like sporting venues these days, the Theatre needs to have a good stable of ongoing financial supporters. Hanover Theatre Franklin Square Society members do get perks, but it sure could be stepped up. Here's what you do: break through the brick wall on the second floor of the Theatre's current small VIP space into the 2nd floor space of the Goral Building. Now we have a nice function space that the Theatre leases out for maybe 80 shows a year for exclusive use by their VIP's. Construct restrooms and an expanded lounge and bar to exclusively serve FSS members (order your intermission drink before the show and they will have it waiting for you at intermission - one Tanqueray and tonic for me, please). The Foundation Room at the House of Blues in Boston is probably over the top for Worcester VIP space, but it is at least one concrete example of the concept. In terms of ambiance for a Worcester VIP space, I keep coming back to a backstage ambiance - an urban, warehouse (or backstage) feel, perhaps entering the building from Federal St. through a purposely unsigned nondescript door to give the feeling like you are sneaking into the Theatre. Other offerings in the space could include pre and/or post show dinners (private dining rooms?), exclusive meet and greets with the shows performers, etc. It's a win-win: the restaurant operator gets a nice function space that's pre leased 80 nights out of the year and the Theatre gets a premium space for their FSS members which in turn helps them grow their membership, helping stabilize and grow their operations going forward.
  3. Rooftop Dining: The challenge with a restaurant in this location I think is getting people to visit it when the Theatre is dark, in particular over the summer. Sidewalk dining these days is almost a must, and I think it could be done here especially on theater nights. Even more interesting, however is the idea of an urban rooftop dining destination. Check out these views from the roof:

View from Goral Bldg. Rooftop Looking West

View from Goral Bldg. Rooftop Looking Northwest (note large mural opportunity on side of Denholm Bldg.)

View from Goral Bldg. Rooftop Looking Southwest

It really does have a good urban feel to it, which I would think would give the operator a sustainable competitive advantage over other outdoor dining venues in town. The rooftop is big, I imagine a bar and dining room sized similarly to that of the ground floor restaurant. What a great place to go on a Saturday evening in the summer to catch a nice cool breeze and be surrounded by the lights of the city!

I could see a nice little Sunday Jazz Brunch tradition developing on the rooftop - and remember restaurants in MA can now serve real Mimosa's and Bloody Mary's starting at 10 am on Sundays! Locally grown food is all the rage these days, another unique opportunity here would be to build a rooftop garden on part of the roof that could supply the kitchen - talk about fresh lettuce! It's been done elsewhere check out this article from the Globe this summer - it's happening in Dorchester why not Worchester?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jonathan Kraft Radio Interview on 12/3/10: Soccer Stadium Groundbreaking in 12-24 mos.

See blog comments here:

Good link to audio is here - starts at min. 50:

Here's what I heard:

Still time to put a Worcester site into the mix for consideration:
"Working on a couple of potential sites as possibilities"

Key criteria for locating new stadium "where these venues flourish":
"urban center,"  "near public transportation"

"harder to find the space that's available in the urban center"

Wyman-Gordon parcel in Worcester

Friday, December 17, 2010

Technical Difficulties and Contact Info.

I have heard from a few people that they are having difficulties posting comments. I found a few comments stranded in the Spam inbox this morning, hopefully the program will start to learn and get better. If you are having problems, please e-mail me (see below) and I will try to resolve.

I have added a contact e-mail to the page on the lower right. I encourage you to post for all to see vs. sending me an e-mail, but it's there if you need it.

I think I need to fix some of the template colors too - the black background makes some of the words hard to read for me - especially links. If you have any other layout recommendations or thoughts please post....

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Pitch at Wyman-Gordon Field, Take II

Proposed Wyman-Gordon Field with Proposed Airline BRT (Red) and Trolley (Green) Public Transportation Stops
I discussed building a soccer specific stadium for the New England Revolution in a previous post, it is by far the most viewed of my recent posts. In the comments, Harry T. points out that I'm not the first/only one with this thought: See this post from late 2006 by Harry Tembenis (Harry T. I presume?) on Bill Randall's blog about Harry's idea of building a stadium on the Wyman-Gordon site for a Canadian Football League team. Also see this post from this summer on Paulie's blog about the Worcester World Cup event and David Z.'s comment "every time I drive by the former Wyman Gordon’s wasteland at Kelly Square, I think it would be a perfect location for a soccer only stadium for the New England Revolution."

I think the CFL expansion team is a great idea. Based on what Harry said in the 2006 post, the 20-25,000 seating capacity needed for the Revolution appears to work for a CFL team. I had suggested Holy Cross football could move it's games to Wyman-Gordon Field (the seating capacity also would appear to be the right size for this use too), but a Worcester based CFL team would be another great option instead of (or perhaps in addition to?) Holy Cross football. With Pats tickets almost impossible to get/too expensive for most, there may indeed be enough demand throughout New England to support a CFL team in Worcester. In the 2006 post Harry talked about the CFL possibly expanding with a few US franchises, I checked out the CFL website are there are still no US teams, does anyone know if the CFL still has plans to expand into the US?

The current lack of infrastructure in general and public transportation in particular was mentioned on Paulie's blog as a reason why the Revolution would not be interested in Worc. I would agree that there is not enough public transportation infrastructure in place today, but between the underway doubling of MBTA service between Worcester and Boston, the development of a bus rapid transit system connecting ORH and Union Station (with a Wyman-Gordon Field stop) and a tourist targeted trolley loop that would take visitors from Gateway Park to Union Station then through the Canal District and deliver them to the front door of Wyman-Gordon Field, I think we have the makings of a pretty good public transit infrastructure to support the stadium.

Of course, many will come by car, which leads to images of a gridlocked Kelley Square. Like any stadium in an urban area, traffic and parking plans will need to be studied closely. Parking in the Green Island residential neighborhoods should be limited to residents only during events. Event based street closings and select one-ways in Green Island might also be considered to keep non-residents out of this residential area. Looking at the image above, I think it's important to note that the stadium is located in an area I call the Junction District and not in Kelley Square itself. Those coming from Boston, SE MA and Providence will likely arrive at the stadium via 146 and Quinsigamond Ave, thus avoiding Kelley Square; those coming from Hartford, Springfield and points west will likely be entering via 290 E (though the 146 exit is a viable option from this direction in this case, old habits die hard - I speak from personal experience!) and could be directed to use Southbridge St., thus avoiding Kelley Square and those coming from Maine, NH and northeast and northcentral MA will be coming into the city by 290 W - these users would be the ones most likely to use the Kelley Square exit - but I would think that signage could encourage users to exit at either Lincoln St. or MLK Blvd. and either 1) park at Gateway Park (Lincoln St. exit) or City Square or Union Station (MLK Blvd. exit) and ride the trolley or Airline to the stadium, or 2) drive down the Major Taylor to Foster (the recent pedestrianization of Foster St. being a nice change to the car dominated design of most of Worcester's streets (Worcester slogan suggestion #215: "Worcester, a City that walks!")) to McGrath stretch and enter the stadium from the west, thus avoiding Kelley Square.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The New England Revolution as Public Partner at Crompton Park

View of Current Crompton Park Boundary (Dark Blue Outline) and Proposed Expanded Boundary (Light Blue Outline)
In an earlier post we talked about bringing the New England Revolution to a new stadium to be constructed at the Wyman-Gordon parcels in Worcester. Meanwhile, Wyman-Gordon's neighbor, Crompton Park, has been in the news lately. While reading about what seems to be yet another senseless murder of one of Worcester's youth, I learned that the city is developing a new master plan for the park. From what I read the plans sound pretty good and there seems to be ample opportunity for public input. The question of public restrooms came up, and while there is always a need, the maintenance and upkeep is a challenge for any municipality.

In thinking further about bring the Revolution to Worcester, I realized that they were likely to require a dedicated practice facility, perhaps two full sized fields with some parking and a building with locker rooms, film and meeting rooms, etc. While it does not seem to be a requirement (e.g., Celtics practice in Waltham I believe?), I thought the closer to the stadium the better. Hearing that Crompton Park was going through a master planning process, I decided to see what we had for land near the park.

Sure enough, as you can see in the above image, there is a large parcel of undeveloped land that lies between the Quinsigamond Ave. side of Crompton Park and the P&W rail yard. I grabbed an image of an existing soccer practice field at Foxboro and it will indeed fit as shown above (if someone could independently verify I'm scaling these images at least somewhat accurately that would be great) - in fact it looks like we could get two fields with a parking lot and probably a building located between the two fields. I like the concept because it gives the Revolution the space they need in a separate, yet connected (expanded) part of Crompton Park. The community would not have to give up any of their existing precious parkland. It's also just 1/2 mile from their home field.

The opportunity I like most about this idea, however, is the concept of the Revolution as public partners of Crompton Park. Its great that the park is going through a master plan, and I'm sure over time the infrastructure will be improved per the plan. The challenge will lie in the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the park on a daily basis. This is where the Revolution can step in. The MLS soccer season runs Spring to Fall, so we could expect the team and its staff to be at the park on a daily basis when the park is used most often. They will have staff knowledgeable and skilled in park maintenance to work their fields and they could workout an agreement with Worc. DPW&P to supplement what the city is able to do at the park. More importantly, the Revolution staff could provide the necessary day-to-day "on the ground eyes and ears" at the Park that just might make halfway descent public restrooms a reality at Crompton Park.

More importantly, is the potential for the Revolution players to provide Worcester youth with positive roll models. Soccer is and is expected to continue to grow in popularity with children and would be a great way for Worcester to connect with its large and diverse immigrant population, to whom soccer is like a religion! Kids would come down to the park just to watch the players practice and the players could easily get involved with clinics and in the city's schools.

The Revolution players are not going to save all of Worcester's youth from gangs and street violence, but if they can divert even a few from going down the wrong path I'm all for it....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Making Connections for Visitors: The Downtown - Canal District Trolley Line

Proposed Downtown - Canal District Visitor's Trolley Line
Detail of Canal District Section of Proposed Downtown - Canal District Visitor's Trolley Line

The Airline transit line mentioned in previous posts would be targeted towards Worcester's everyday commuters and visitors utilizing ORH. My experience has been that if you want to get tourists to your city to park once and use public transit to get around your city you either need to have a subway system or design a transit system such as Philadelphia's Phlash Buses.

Dan Benoit and I have had a number of discussions about ways to run buses in and around downtown to help visitors get around - I originally though of a loop that wound serve Main St. and connect to the Canal District and Shrewsbury St. Dan's idea was to create a trolley that would connect Union station and City Hall (and possibly extending down at least a portion of Shrewsbury St. if I recall our conversations correctly)

I really liked Dan's idea, but connecting just City Hall and Union Station seemed too short to be worth it for me so I began to think about how we could expand the line to connect other parts of downtown which resulted in the map above. The proposed 5 mile (assuming double track) trolley line would run from Gateway Park in the north end of downtown (the trolley yard could be in the unused industrial area between Gateway Park and the highway, near the existing railroad tracks), travel under Lincoln Square using the existing "Summer Nationals burnout tunnel," then south along Main St. until it reached Harrington Corner at which point it would travel east down Front St. to Union Station. At Union Station the line would travel under the mainline tracks south down Harding St. (alongside the recreated canal would be pretty neat!). The line would make a u-turn on the south side of Kelley Square and then head north along Water St., then west along Franklin St. where it then meets up again with the southbound line at Union Station.

This route hits a lot of the main visitor sites - The Worcester Art Museum, Aud and Courthouse (I am a big fan of branding Lincoln Square as a museum district and filling these buildings with museums), the new courthouse and MCPHS, Mechanics Hall and DCU Center (one block east), City Hall and the Common, Hanover Theatre (just 2 1/2 blocks south of City Hall), CitySquare, Union Station, Canal District, Kelley Square and the proposed new home for the New England Revolution at Wyman-Gordon Field in the Junction District. There are of course a thousand variations to this route and extensions could go in a variety of directions (the ones I like best would be to continue the line from Lincoln Square west along Highland St. terminating at Elm Park - tying in the Highland St. and Park Ave. commercial districts, West Side and WPI and Becker; and extending the line on the south end down Harding and Millbury Sts. to Brosnihan Square and then along the railroad ROW to what was the proposed site of the Blackstone Valley visitors center - tying in Green Island, Holy Cross and connecting with the existing Blackstone corridor).

This route would also provide an opportunity to showcase a lot of Worcester's history (it roughly follows the historic canal route from Lincoln Square) and one possibility for increasing the authentic historic experience would be to procure and refurbish historic trolleys built by the Osgood Bradley Car Company formerly of Worcester. I understand that at one time they produced trolleys that were used in cities across the US (including Worcester) and some may even still be in use in a few parts of the world today. It not impossible, both Philadelphia's Gerard Ave. Trolley Line and the T's Mattapan High Speed Line run refurbished historic PCC trolleys I understand.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pitch at Wyman-Gordon Field

20,000 Seat Toyota Park (Home of the Chicago Fire) Superimposed on the Wyman-Gordon Site

Wyman-Gordon Field in Relation to the Proposed Junction District Stop on the AIRLINE and Kelley Square/Canal District
 The Wyman-Gordon parcel downtown has been for sale for some time now. It's a large parcel (or several parcels really) that total something like a dozen acres or so. Reportedly W-G wants to retain a few acres for some of their operations and is asking $1MM per acre for the balance.

Meanwhile, it's known that the Kraft's, owners of the New England Revolution, a soccer club member of Major League Soccer (MLS), are looking to build a soccer specific stadium to house their team. Apparently they would like an urban location (check) with good access to public transportation (check - new Junction District stop is 1st stop on line from Union Station - a mere 45 min. express train ride from Boston). So far they have been focusing on an area known as Brickbottom in Somerville, and I certainly don't blame them for focusing their efforts on the Boston area. But I think there are some merits to considering the W-G site in Worcester:
  1. The current home of the Revolution is already outside of Boston - Moving from Foxboro to Worcester would likely be seen as a lateral move by Boston area residents - instead of driving/taking the T to Foxboro, they just drive or take the T to Worcester. South shore residents would have to trek further but Western MA, Hartford, CT area and VT and NH residents would all be closer. This would be much more challenging if the Revolution were already in Boston and we wanted to move them out of the city.
  2. 6 MM people in a 50 mi. radius - Soccer plays something like 16 home games plus playoffs a year. With relatively few games, the idea of taking an hour or two ride to get to the game is not so imposing as for baseball, hockey or basketball where there are a lot more games and thus you need a large local population to draw from. This is the New England Revolution after all, why not put them in the center of New England?
  3. A stadium of 20-25,000 seats could be supported in Worcester - If we were talking 60,000 seats it would not work, it's simply too big for Worcester. But a stadium in the low 20's seems like something Worcester could support. Other uses for the stadium include a new home field for Holy Cross football, summer concerts (Worcester has a strong concert scene and an outdoor venue like this does not exist in Central MA as far as I know. It seems to me that being able to offer this outdoor venue together with the DCU Center would be a great competitive advantage when looking to bring bigger acts to Worcester) and special events (graduations, World Cup soccer qualifying matches, international soccer exhibitions, and special events such as college lacrosse, field hockey and football games - maybe even a New Years Day outdoor hockey game featuring Holy Cross and a local rival?)
  4. A multicultural sport for a multicultural city - Worcester is a diverse city and must remain so if it is going to continue to grow in the years to come. What better way to promote diversity then by hosting an MLS team?
  5. MA Youth Soccer's fields are located in Lancaster, MA - MLS heavily promotes and support youth soccer in states/cities with teams and a number of teams have recently built youth facilities as part of their new facilities. Here in MA, MA Youth Soccer opened a world class facility in Lancaster, MA in 2007. The facility, with 11 natural grass and 5 synthetic turf fields on 130 acres is just 22 miles (less than a 30 minute drive along 190) as compared to 35 miles (approximately 1 hour assuming no traffic) to Somerville. If the Revolution want to build their relationship with MA Youth Soccer, they would do better choosing a Worcester location.
  6. Opportunities for spin off development - Like Patriot Place in Foxboro, there could easily be opportunities to develop retail opportunities in the vacant land connecting the proposed stadium to Kelley Square. Ideally the Blackstone would be day lighted in this area (I hear the Kraft's did a similar day lighting operation in Foxboro?) providing a unique destination for shopping and dining that you could only experience in Worcester. Perhaps focusing on the entertainment idea may be a good focus, maybe a Kings Bowling Center (with a special Worcester only Candlepin Room?). We could have developers such as thee Cordish Co. out of Baltimore (Power Plant Live! in Baltimore and similar projects in numerous other cities) take a look and see what they can come up with. I think the ideal mix would be to have more of a corporate feel in and around the stadium blending into a more regional/local flavor in the Canal District with smaller shops, etc.
  7. Soccer as a metaphor for Worcester's return to the national scene - Soccer, like Worcester, is known to most people in the US. Soccer, like Worcester, is not thought of as a top tier sport (mid-sized city) in the US. 25 years from now I think soccer will be thought of as a top tier sport and I believe, if Worcester continues to make smart decisions, it too will be thought of as a top tier mid-sized US city.
Game on!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ride the AIRLINE - Single Seat Ride ORH to UMASS/Shrewsbury via Union Station

Proposed "Union Station - Fairlawn" Segment

Proposed "AIRLINE"

The idea of the Union Station - ORH bus rapid transit (BRT) system started as a way of getting people quickly and efficiently to/from ORH via downtown. However, as I thought more about it, it really also becomes a great opportunity to also connect and promote the development of a number of key Worcester neighborhoods, one example of which is the previous post about the Junction District.

This post builds on this idea of connecting Worcester's neighborhoods by extending the existing Union Station - ORH BRT line along the busy Shrewsbury St. corridor to the biotech and UMASS campuses and then along Route 9 into Shrewsbury. This proposed line, which I call the AIRLINE (a nod to the nickname for the old trolley line that formerly ran along Shrewsbury St. and Route 9 to Boston - apparently so called because it's route was a straight line between Worcester and Boston, much like an airline would take flying between the two cities) would provide for a single seat ride between ORH and the busy Shrewsbury Route 9 shopping corridor, serving Webster Square, Clark University/South Worcester, Junction District, Union Station, the Shrewsbury St. restaurant district, the biotech park and UMASS campuses and Lake Quinsigamond along the way.

The Union Station - Fairlawn leg as shown above is about 3.75 miles long, resulting in a total ORH - Fairlawn route length of approximately 10.25 miles. The Union Station - Fairlawn leg is envisioned to run along the existing Shrewsbury St. and Route 9 auto ROW, possibly with a priority lane/signal control and limited stops in order to provide fast service to/from Union Station.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Junction Shops - Future Home of Worcester's Video Game Design & Development Incubator?

Leaving Union Station, our first stop on the proposed Union Station - ORH bus rapid transit system is Junction District (so named because the area lies at the junction of several railroads and several well known Worcester neighborhoods such as Main South, Green Island, Downtown, and Canal). There are two distinct neighborhoods in the Junction District, to the west of the tracks is the Southbridge St. corridor and to the east is the 10+ acres of presently largely undeveloped brownfields that formerly made up the Wyman Gordan manufacturing complex. Today I want to head west, and specifically focus on the area within the brown outline on the above map.

With the recent ranking of Becker and WPI's video game design programs in the top 8 nationwide, there has been much talk lately about developing Worcester as Massachusetts's video game design & development capital. I strongly support this idea and would suggest we explore making the Junction Shops Historic District (the area outlined in brown above) ground zero for this effort and furthermore, target the historic Junction Shops (shaded brown above) as the home of a public/private partnership driven effort to construct a video game focused, live/work incubator. There is more than 500,000 SF of significantly underutilized historic mill building in this area that could be redeveloped as Massachusetts's video game design & development capital. A few reasons why we should look to the Junction Shops for a video game focused, live/work incubator:
  1. Preserving History - The Junction Shops is Worcester's original incubator space. The Junction Shops date to 1851 when Colonel James Esterbrook built the original "stone chips covered in stucco" structure as "rental space and power for small firms." The Junction Shops were home to numerous small industrial firms over the years, and incubated businesses such as the Cereal Machine Company (shredded wheat anyone?) and Knowles Loom Works (which would grow and merge with his competitor George Crompton to become Crompton & Knowles Loom Works on Grand St.) Worcester long term competitive advantage will be in marketing what makes Worcester different for other cities, and adaptively reusing 150 year old plus industrial incubator space to meets today's knowledge economy incubator needs is one way to carve out it's own niche.
  2. Great location - The Junction Shops is located just southwest of downtown Worcester (1/2 mile to City Hall), about 1/2 mile from the Kelley Square exit off of I-290 and with a stop on the Union Station - ORH bus rapid transit system at it's doorstep, it's just one stop and a 5 minute ride to Union Station or a no transfer, three stop, 15 minute ride to ORH.
  3. Hip Space for a Hip Industry - Converted former mill space with exposed brick walls and tall ceilings would make ideal space for today's growing video game design industry. While any existing office space could make due as video game design incubator space, I believe that adaptively reusing historic mill space would present the ideal image for companies in the video game design industry (and the Commonwealth too) and would provide these businesses with a competitive advantage over companies located in "the glass box in the suburban office park" which in turn would help them attract and retain the best talent in the industry.
  4. Opportunities for Spin Off - The Junction Shops themselves are approximately 200,000 SF of space. This leaves 300,000 SF plus of historic mills in a variety of sizes that could be developed by private developers as the transformation took hold. Furthermore, the lots between the Junction Shops and the Southbridge St. corridor are largely undeveloped which provide for long term opportunities for growth and eventual connection with downtown.
  5. Existing Financing Programs in Place to Help Finance the Junction Shop's Rehabilitation - Some of the Junction Shop buildings are more than 150 years old and show their wear. It would come as no surprise to me if it would cost $150 PSF to rehabilitate the 200,000 SF of space into modern incubator space - this is $30MM! The good news however, is Ted Carman of Concord Square Planning and Development of Boston really likes this building and he thinks he can help put together a financing mechanism he is now using in Greenfield that would provide about $0.45 of every $1.00 needed for the work (yes, that's $13.5MM!)! Ted would do this by using a leveraged New Markets Tax Credit financing structure with state and federal historic tax credits. It's very complicated, and the lawyer's fees are high, but for a $30MM deal it is well worth it! Bottom line is with this financing the deal could probably attract the debt and equity financing needed so that affordable rents averaging in the mid teens could probably be realistic.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Improving Access to ORH While Supporting Worcester's Economic Development

With MassPort's acquisition of Worcester Regional Airport (ORH) this past summer there has been some speculation that the airport access road issue will again come to the forefront. I know that access roads from I-290 to ORH have been studied along both the Hope Ave. and Cambridge St. corridors without much success and others promote a new exit off of the MassPike at its intersection with Rt. 56 as an alternative.

The I-290 auto connections look great on paper, but the costs (both $ and environmentally speaking) and takings necessary to carry either of these plans forward appear to be insurmountable hurdles. The MassPike/Rt. 56 option solves the problem at expected lower costs with fewer property takings, but would likely divert economic development from Worcester to this new Rt. 56 corridor for many years to come. I want to throw out a third alternative for consideration - a bus rapid transit system connecting Union Station and ORH.

The line would originate at Union Station and run within the P&W right-of-way (ROW) until it's junction with the CSX ROW where it will then run alongside the CSX ROW until it's intersection with James St. The busway will then turn north and connect up with Goddard Memorial Dr. on its way to ORH. I imagine a dedicated ROW along the rail lines and for the segment connecting to Goddard Memorial Dr. and then the busway using the existing Goddard Memorial Dr. ROW for the remainder of the busway.

According to Google Maps, the line would be approximately 6.5 miles long. Because the ROW would be separated from other traffic and have no streetlights, it would seem to me that average speeds of 30 MPH could certainly be achievable. This means a passenger boarding a bus at Union Station could be at the airport in just 13 minutes if there were no stops along the way. Even adding in a few stops, say three stops at two minutes per stop, we are still less than a 20 minute ride from Union Station to ORH!