Tuesday, January 25, 2011

IMAX Theatre in Worcester

Harry T commented in this post about putting an IMAX theatre in the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. It got me thinking about IMAX and where the existing theater's were in New England:

IMAX Theatre's in New England as of January 2011
Sure seems to me that Worcester could use and also support an IMAX, especially given that there are already theatre's in the Lawrence, Providence, Manchester and Hartford markets. What is interesting to note however, is that of these four cities, only the one in Providence, is actually located in the city - the rest are located within suburban shopping malls. It's also interesting to note that there is no such thing as a stand alone IMAX - they are either part of a museum, in a Jordan's Furniture, or part of a traditional cinema complex.

I could see an IMAX theatre in one of the larger Lincoln Square buildings as part of a plan to develop the North Main area as a museum destination (See Jim M's post suggesting a museum of space in the AT&T building in North Main). I could also see an IMAX theatre coupled with a traditional theatre complex as part of a larger entertainment complex associated with the proposed Pitch at Wyman-Gordon Field near Kelley Square. I really think that the Canal District has a future as Worcester's 24/7 entertainment district and a cinema complex with IMAX would complement other ongoing efforts in the area. There was talk about City Square having a movie complex back when Berkley still controlled the deal, but I think a theatre complex with IMAX integrated into the urban fabric on the Wyman-Gordon site near Kelley Square is a far superior site than in City Square (I would much rather see the Paris Cinema/Capitol Theatre on Franklin St. rehabbed as an art cinema in this location).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ride the AIRLINE - The Backbone of Worcester's Future Public Transportation System

The AIRLINE Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal for Worcester has come together in a series of posts over the past few months (the original Union Station - ORH line, the Union Station - Fairlawn branch to Shrewsbury and the Union Station - QCC branch), so I thought it might be helpful to step back and look at the BRT system in its entirety for a change.

The Proposed AIRLINE BRT System for Worcester, MA
AIRLINE (Orange) - AIRLINE East (Red) - AIRLINE North (Blue)
 The current WRTA bus system (map) is run as a hub and spoke system with City Hall playing the role of the hub. This system worked well for many years when most Worcester County businesses and retailers were downtown, but started to become less effective when businesses and retailers could locate just about anywhere thanks to the new highways built after World War II. Today, just as many public transit users need to get across town as downtown, but the system is still setup as if we were still in the 1950's.

Ideally, the WRTA would revamp it's bus routes using more of a grid plan like those found in NYC and Philadelphia. A grid system is great for transit users as it gives them more than one option for getting to their destination (e.g., you can go up, then across, or across and then up, etc.) while with a hub and spoke system you are largely tied to the one spoke that runs to your destination. Practically speaking, Worcester's terrain and existing road infrastructure outside of the downtown core does not make a true grid system practical, so the best I think Worcester could do is a hybrid transit system with Union Station serving as the primary hub.

I've heard here and there that the WRTA is planning on moving its hub from City Hall to Union Station at some point, but I have not heard much about it lately. The AIRLINE BRT would serve as the backbone of this redesigned system, providing efficient, frequent service along Worcester's primary business corridors and connecting to ORH. The next step would be to lay out traditional bus routes that would serve the secondary business corridors and residential areas and cross over (like a grid) the BRT lines at secondary hubs (e.g., Lincoln Square, Webster Square, etc.) - the objective would be to get riders on the traditional bus routes to the BRT system as quickly as possible where they can then transfer to the BRT and get to their ultimate destination quickly. Alternatively, as the bus line would cross the BRT line, the rider would have the option to stay on the bus (or perhaps take the bus in the opposite direction) and take an alternate route to their destination. I'll layout a sample route next post to demonstrate what I am thinking here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Will Worcester's Historic Junction Shops (circa 1851) See 2012?

I've added a countdown widget on the right - it is counting down to March 25, 2011, the day that Worcester may lose one of its oldest extant 19th century factory complexes, the Junction Shops on Beacon St.

Southeast Corner (East Elevation) of Junction Shops (right) with Other Historic Junction District Mill Buildings in Background (left)

Southern Elevation of Junction Shops
Location of Junction Shops Property (Brown) in Relation to Downtown Worcester

Detail of the 4.6 acre, 200,000 SF + Historic Junction Shops Property on Beacon St. in Worcester's Junction District
I say "may lose" because in Worcester all historic properties receive an automatic one year demo delay. The current owner petitioned the city to waive the demo delay so he could demo most of the 4.6 acre, 200,000 SF +, complex on March 25, 2010, but was denied because of the historic importance of the property. Unfortunately, this action also starts the one year delay clock, so at 12:01 am on March 25, 2011, the owner will be able to apply for a demo permit for the entire complex and he will be able to proceed and there will be nothing that any of us can do to stop it. The owner may of course elect to do nothing, which is the preferred course of action for a number of historic properties, but I would hate to rely on that.

In an earlier post I proposed redeveloping the property as the Commonwealth's Video Game Design & Development Incubator. (Click this link to view the post, read about the history of the site and learn more about the growing video game design industry and Worcester's leadership role it currently plays in the industry). I believe we have a once in a lifetime opportunity here to restore a historic factory building that symbolizes Worcester's important role in the Industrial Revolution and puts it to productive use for today's growing and ever important Knowledge Economy. Bottom line, I don't care what it becomes, as long as it is saved.

I spoke to the owner of the property a while back, he really has no interest in developing the property. He says he will sell, but is tired of developers asking for long term options which tie up his property for months on end and then don't close. He told me: "$1.5MM sale price, $100k down, 30 days due diligence, 60 days to close" would be a deal he would be thrilled to hear right now. It's a starting point.

I'm willing to pledge $100 of next week's unemployment check (thankfully my wife does not read the blog) towards the down payment if it will help. I know it's not much, but its a start........ Just $1,499,900 to go....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Oh Summer (St.), Where Art Thou? (or, Reason #58 to Demo the Worcester Police Headquarters Bldg.)

Whenever I drive north up Summer St. from Union Station I always have a feeling that this street north of its intersection with E. Central St./MLK Jr. Blvd. should go somewhere more important then under Rt. 9 and force you to head north out of the city (either via Lincoln St. or the highways). (BTW, just where is MLK Jr. Blvd's. eastern start/end? According to Google Earth it runs all the way to Shrewsbury St. Is it at the intersection with Summer St. as the street signs seem to indicate, or does it extend to the highway (or beyond) as the highway signs seem to indicate?)

When I did the post overlaying the 1829 canal map I noticed that Summer St. did indeed formerly go somewhere more important.

1829 Map of Worcester Showing Summer St.
(Red is Present Day Alignment, Blue is 1829 Alignment Connecting to Lincoln Square)
Superimposed on Map of Present Day Worcester

As you can see from the map above, Summer St. formerly served as the primary connection between Union Station and Lincoln Square. In those days there was no such thing as the roadway now known as Major Taylor Blvd. You can see a short stub of this former alignment near the gas station near where Summer St. tuns into Goldsberry St.

Present Day Intersection of Summer and Goldsberry Sts. with Stub of Former Summer St. Connection to Lincoln Square

Sadly, we would have to demo the Police Headquarters Bldg. if we wanted to restore this historic connection between these two important (both historically and today) Worcester squares.

I know a couple of good demo contractors if you need some names.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Broad Meadow Brook - Experiencing Worcester's Natural Environment

Even this hardcore city lover needs to escape to nature every once in a while to set things straight, and this past Sunday morning at Broad Meadow Brook fit the bill.

Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester, MA on Sunday, January 9, 2011
Where do you like to experience the natural environment in Worcester?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Moving Forward While Honoring Our Past

I was at the DCU Center on Sunday (great Sharks game btw - they scored with 3 seconds or so left to win it!) when I noticed a marker for the Blackstone Canal. Unfortunately, I was not able to read the text as I was in my car. It got me wondering - just where did the Canal run in downtown Worcester?

1829 Map of Worcester Showing Blackstone Canal Superimposed on Map of Present Day Worcester
I found the above 1829 map of the Canal on the Worcester Historic Museum website. It looks like the basin was where the Major Taylor garage is today and that it ran under St. Vincent's Hospital (did you know that the road used for hospital drop-off/pick-up is officially known as Blackstone Rd.?) It also looks like there was a large basin where Union Station stands today. It absolutely amazes me how we could have so completely obliterated pretty much all evidence of such an important contributor to the early growth of Worcester.

Growth and economic development are absolutely imperative, but it is also important that we honor our past as we move forward as a city. Globalization and the sameness in the built environment that comes along with it are here to stay; However, historic cities that can successfully grow their economies in this global context while managing to maintain those elements of their built environment that most contribute to their historic identity will become the communities of choice for residents and businesses alike in the years to come.

Ride the AIRLINE - Heading North out of Union Station

Single seat ride ORH to QCC via Union Station/Lincoln Square/Greendale Mall.

Proposed Airline North BRT Line

Downtown Detail of Proposed Airline North BRT Line
Previous posts discuss the Airline BRT system connecting Union Station and ORH, and an extension along Shrewsbury St. to UMASS and Shrewsbury. The Trolley service connects Union Station with Main St. and Lincoln Square, but would be designed with the visitor experience in mind and not that of the everyday commuter or businessperson whose transportation needs are very different from those of a visitor.

The proposed 4 mile Airline North BRT Line would originate at Union Station and travel along Foster St. to Major Taylor Blvd. to Lincoln Square where it would then travel along Grove St. to Chadwick Square where it would then ride along Gold Star Blvd./West Boylston St., terminating at Quinsigamond Community College. Like the Shrewsbury St. line, this line would run along the existing auto ROW possibly with priority lane/signal control and limited stops in order to provide fast service to/from Union Station. Major Taylor Blvd. is quite an imposing road from a pedestrian POV - perhaps installing a dedicated BRT transitway in the middle of MTB (the C Branch of the Green Line on the T, the line that runs along the centerline ROW of Beacon St. (apparently, according to "Your Worcester Street" by Ivan Sandrof, Worcester's Beacon St. is indeed named after this "graceful Boston street") is a good example of what I am thinking of here).