Friday, April 29, 2011

Urban Design Considerations for St. Vincent Cancer Center at CitySquare

I was glad to hear the news last week that St. Vincent Hospital has struck a deal with a subsidiary of Hanover Insurance to purchase a CitySquare parcel at Foster and (the to be reconstructed) Front Sts. St. Vincent plans to develop a two story, 40,000 SF building at a cost of $21MM ($525 PSF) on the parcel which will house their comprehensive cancer center, most of which is presently based at the old St. Vincent campus on Vernon Hill.

Updated CitySquare Site Plan Showing Location of Proposed St. Vincent Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center (from Telegram & Gazette)

Rendering of Proposed St. Vincent Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center (from Telegram & Gazette)
This is indeed good news that we now have a second tenant for CitySquare, but the rendering above concerns me from an urban design standpoint.

Remember back in 2005 when Berkeley Investments, then owner and developer of CitySquare, set forth a vision for a vibrant mixed use urban community at CitySquare?

Berkeley Investments Ground Floor Plan (Blue is Retail) for CitySquare (from Berkeley Investments May 2005 Presentation)

Berkeley Investments Rendering of New Front St. for CitySquare (from Berkeley Investments May 2005 Presentation)
The key takeaways for me from the above vision are:
  • The plan showed that all buildings would be built out to the sidewalks (i.e., no setback).
  • The ground floor of all buildings, regardless of the use on the upper floors, would be active retail so as to contribute to a vibrant pedestrian experience in downtown Worcester.
With these ideas in mind, take a look again at the rendering for the St. Vincent Cancer Center.

Rendering of Proposed St. Vincent Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center (from Telegram & Gazette)
  • It appears that the building is planned for 100% medical use, no retail on the ground floor.
  • There does not appear to be an entrance to the center off of Foster or Front Sts. The rendering suggests that Front St. rises towards the rear of the building - is the main entrance at the 2nd floor rear?
  • The right side of the Foster St. elevation seems to indicate plans for a fenced off ambulance loading area between the building and the sidewalk.
  • The presence of a small strip of grass and a few trees between the building and the sidewalk reminds me of what we might find in a suburban office park, not a pedestrian friendly urban environment.
This building will be one of the first buildings visitors to our city will see when entering downtown from Washington Square/Union Station. Given it's prominent location and because it is one of the first new buildings to be constructed at CitySquare, it will set a precedent of what is expected of future buildings at CitySquare. As such, I would suggest the following changes to the design be considered:
  • Activate the ground floor with retail whose main entrance(s) would be along Foster and/or Front Sts. The building SF would increase to approximately 60,000 SF and the height from two stories to three. The cancer center would be located on the second and third floors of the building, keeping the main entrance to the center at the rear of the second floor, but perhaps adding access to the center from Front St. at the rear of the building. The ambulance loading area could be relocated to the rear of the ground floor of the building in the area where the new building will abut the existing garage, ambulance access to this area being through the existing garage.
  • Do not set the building back from the sidewalk. In this case it probably makes sense to line up the Foster St. facade of the new building with the existing garage facade, which would mean extending the sidewalk to the building. This would create a nice wide sidewalk, which would allow plenty of room for a clear walkway plus room for wide storefront awnings, large trees and street furniture, all elements that go into making Berkeley's renderings above so inviting.
Making pretty pictures is one thing. As Berkeley's experience with CitySquare showed us, turning that vision into a reality is another story.

First, St. Vincent's core mission is to be a hospital, not a real estate developer. St. Vincent Hospital, however, is a large institution and does have significant real estate development and operating experience in Worcester. The Medical Center contains a number of retail tenants, including restaurants, a gift shop, a hair salon and a branch of Worcester Fitness, among others. In this light, it does not seem to be too far fetched to ask them to consider incorporating retail space into their cancer center building plans.

Second, demand for retail in downtown Worcester is minimal. It's one thing to ask St. Vincent Hospital to lease retail space in their building, but it's another to ask them to subsidize this space for the foreseeable future. So this brings us to the question of whether or not this location and the proposed building would be considered desirable from a retailers point-of-view.
  • Retailers like corner locations, and this corner would have great visibility from Washington Square and lie on the main auto and pedestrian path between Union Station and City Hall/Common.
  • The property abuts a parking garage.
  • The building footprint, at about 20,000 SF, is a good size and shape for a number of retailers. In my experience, one of the problems with a lot of the available retail space in downtown Worcester is that it is too small and/or narrow for what many potential retailers are looking for in a space.
So what kind of retail tenants might St. Vincent pursue?
  • My first thought is to speak with CVS's competitors, Walgreen's and Rite Aid. These chain pharmacies seem to come in pairs, and right now all we have is a CVS downtown. They pay high rents and the risk that they are not going to pay their rent is minimal. It's a corner property, parking is available adjacent to the site (perhaps parking fees could be waved for those parking in the garage for less then 15 min. and a dozen or so convenient, 15 min. limit, head-in parking spaces could be carved out of the Foster St. sidewalk area without compromising the pedestrian experience), and the footprint of the building fits their model well. Despite all these positives, my guess is that the demographics for another chain pharmacy (and one without a drive-thru in particular) downtown are just not there today.
  • My next thought is to speak with Worcester Fitness and see if they might be interested in relocating (or perhaps expanding?) their currently hidden away fitness location on the sixth floor of the Medical Center to this new building.  This location would allow St. Vincent and Worcester Fitness to maintain their affiliation, while greatly increasing Worcester Fitness's visibility and likely resulting in a significant increase in membership numbers by area office users who are presently unaware that Worcester Fitness offers a state of the art fitness facility downtown.
  • As a third option, how about putting some of the hospital's doctor offices on the ground floor? While not an ideal ground floor use, the rents paid should be reasonable and the use will bring people downtown, generating a lot of foot traffic which will help activate the street. The use will also serve to reserve the space until such a time as a more appropriate retail use becomes viable.
I'm thrilled that St. Vincent Hospital has chosen to play an active role in the redevelopment of CitySquare. I know budgets for all are tight these days, and this puts a lot of emphasis on short term thinking. Remember, however, that this building and the UNUM tower will stand for decades to come and will also serve to set the standards for urban design at CitySquare. I urge all involved, including St. Vincent Hospital, Hanover Insurance, the City of Worcester and it's citizens to emphasize the long term, pedestrian point-of-view when making urban design decisions that will impact The Image of Worcester in general, and downtown Worcester in particular, for generations to come.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Summit (of What?)

When I moved to Worcester, a number of my neighbors told me I could do my dry cleaning, get a pizza and gear up for my next outdoor adventure at New England Backpacker at a place called "The Summit."  With street names such as East and West Mountain St., I really built up this image of a mountaintop village in my mind. Boy was I disappointed on my first trip down to The Summit (my Burncoat area residence is at elevation 705 ft., while "The Summit" tops at about 635 ft. or so).

For a long while I could not figure out how this name came about. As I traveled around the area in my car, the name made absolutely no sense. It was only when I was looking at some older maps of the city, and noticed a station labeled "Summit," that the idea that perhaps the railroads had something to do with the name crossed my mind.

According to this history of Worcester by Dr. Coombs, the "Worcester & Nashua Railroad began operations in 1848." Perhaps "The Summit" was the highest point on this new railroad?

Elevation Profile of the Worcester & Nashua Railroad from Union Station to West Boylston
Now that's a summit! I was still curious, though, as to why we had a road named Mountain St. too? Perhaps the "Summit" designation goes back to the days of the stagecoach?

According to Your Worcester St. by Ivan Sandrof, Mountain St. was part of the Sixth Massachusetts Turnpike connecting Boston to Amherst overall and Shrewsbury and Holden locally and "it was so hilly as to be famous in the days of the stage coach." So the Mountain St. names derives from the stagecoach days (the east and west designations apparently due to the fact that The Summit is approximately half way between Shrewsbury and Holden), but what about the idea of this being the "Summit" of the journey between Shrewsbury and Holden?

Elevation Profile of East and West Mountain Sts. from Holden Center to Shrewsbury Center
It tuns out that the Doyle Rd. segment in Holden is higher in elevation than the so called "Summit" by a good 165 ft! So it seems that the Mountain St. designation derives from the days of the stagecoach (the elevation profile does support the hilly nature of the road in Worcester; however, my experience and the above profile seem to support the idea that the hill near St. John's in Shrewsbury is the steepest) and The Summit designation from the days of the railroad.

The turnpike was abandoned long ago, and no passenger trains travel along the railroad today (the railroad line remains active as part of the Pan Am Railways freight network in New England). Some of us even arrive at The Summit by traveling downhill. Perhaps we should update the name to Summit Valley?

Monday, April 25, 2011

How Wide Should a Sidewalk Be?

We received a letter in the mail a week ago or so from our District Councilor, Joff Smith, letting us know that our street will be repaved this summer. That's great news, the street sorely needs it as it seems like it took an especially tough beating this winter.

I understand that this latest repaving effort is suppose to be for the complete street, including the sidewalks. Now our streets are bad, but our sidewalks are much worse.

Time has taken it's toll on our sidewalks, and the roots of the 30 or so full grown maples that formerly lined the street were not kind either. So I'm hoping we will be getting new sidewalks too, and given that it appears that 90% plus of the existing walk needs to be replaced anyway, I'm wondering if we could increase the current 4 foot width a foot or two so two people can walk comfortably side-by-side?

We have a lot of people in our Burncoat neighborhood who like to walk - when it's nice out, it's not uncommon for me to see a dozen of so people out walking along Burncoat St. and other neighborhood streets.
  • On our street alone, we have a number of families with preschool age children who like to take walks together as a family and are often walking with strollers, tricycles and other accessories. The broken up sidewalks are the biggest issue with little ones, but a little extra width would go a long way in giving parents and caregivers some space to walk beside their children to assist as they inevitably get off track or loose their balance.
  • School aged children living on our street are considered walkers for not only the local public elementary school, but also the middle and high schools. We walk our elementary school aged kids to school everyday, and everyday I am glad they are getting a little bit of exercise and I don't have to deal with the school drop-off/pick-up traffic jams. If we expect our children to walk to school, I think it is our obligation to provide them with Safe Routes to School.
  • During the day, caregivers with babies are often seen walking side-by-side with strollers, more often than not, in the street as the existing sidewalks are too narrow (and too broken up) to do so.
  • A number of Hanover Insurance employees take walks along our street during their lunch breaks, and again, most choose to walk in the street as opposed to the sidewalk.
  • On nice evenings it's not uncommon to see couples taking a casual stroll, again, usually in the street instead of on the sidewalk.
  • Finally, one benefit of a road in poor condition is that it tends to keep the average speed of the cars down. With a freshly paved road, average speeds will be up and it will be even more dangerous for pedestrians to walk in the road.
It's seems to me that in sizing a neighborhood sidewalk, the objective should be for two people to be able to walk comfortably side-by-side. Looking online, it seems like a minimum width of 5 feet is standard these days, and, indeed, the City's Standard Specifications - Streets and Sewers calls for 5 foot wide sidewalks (see details on pages 148 and 149). Several sources, including Safe Routes to School sidewalk design guidelines, state that 6 feet is desirable for comfortable side-by-side walking and to allow for two people in wheelchairs to pass each other.

Our street has unusually wide grass strips, 9 feet, so it would seem to me that adding another 2 feet would not be a problem, resulting in a 7 foot grass strip and a 6 foot sidewalk. We do have new white oak trees planted in the strip, and adding two feet would mean locating the edge of the sidewalk within 2 feet 6 inches of the center of the trunks. Assuming a mature white oak tree trunk grows to a radius of 2 feet, this would result in the tree getting as close as 6 inches to the new sidewalk, certainly inviting trouble. One option to address this concern would be to keep the 6 foot width and narrow the sidewalks near the trees to 4 feet 6 inches with a semicircular cutout around each tree (4 feet 6 inches is admittedly tight for two people walking side-by-side, but it is only this dimension at a point so I think it could work). This would result in about a minimum 2 foot buffer around each mature tree trunk and the edge of the wider sidewalk.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 0131, aka "The Loop"

Today we take a look at reimagining the WRTA's existing bus routes Route 1 - City Hall to Mt. St. Ann via Providence St. and Route 31 - City Hall to Lincoln Plaza via Grove & W. Boylston Sts.

Current Bus Routes 1 and 31 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red), Visitor Trolley (Green) and other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)

Routes 1 and 31 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red) and Visitor Trolley (Green). Other Proposed Bus Routes deleted for clarity
 The proposed combined routes 1 and 31 function as "The Loop," connecting a number of bus lines running in all directions out of downtown and serving to compliment the connecting services provided by the proposed Route 0716 - "South Loop."

The proposed route follows the same route as the current route 1 bus with the exception that it does not provide service between Union Station and City Hall. The current route 31 bus provides service from City Hall to Lincoln Plaza via Grove, West Boylston, and East Mountain Sts. The proposed route builds on the current outer loop service provided on East Mountain St. by extending the east side service southward to UMASS Memorial - University Campus and on to Rice Square via Plantation St. and shifting the current West Boylston St. service west and creating a west side loop via Assumption and Worcester State University.

On the east side of Worcester, the route diverts from the existing route at the intersection of Clark and East Mountain Sts., where the proposed route continues southeast along NE Cutoff until it intersects with Boylston St. The route then travels briefly inbound on Boylston St. (connecting service to Lincoln Plaza via Route 2633) until it intersects with Lincoln St., where it then heads outbound on Lincoln St. to Plantation St. The Route then heads south on Plantation St., providing service to UMASS Memorial - University Campus and the AIRLINE East BRT service.

Detail of NE Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0131
After crossing Belmont St./Route 9, the route continues south on Plantation St., intersecting with Hamilton St. (Route 0716), and terminating at Rice Square (Route 0205 and Route 0622).

Detail of East Side Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0131
On the west side of Worcester, the route diverts from the existing route 31 at the Summit where it then heads west onto West Mountain St. and turns left onto Pullman St., serving Price Chopper. The route then continues south on Brooks St. where it serves Showcase Cinemas Worcester North.

Detail of NW Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0131
Presently, all auto traffic and buses serving the cinemas have to turn around and exit the cinemas via Brooks St. north to West Mountain St. as Brooks St. dead ends at the cinema.

Section of City Tax Map Tile M08 Showing Abutting Brooks St. Dead Ends, the Showcase Cinemas Building is Shown in Yellow
However, it appears that Brooks St. south did at one time continue straight through to Ararat St., and it may be possible to construct a bus only connection between the abutting dead ends to allow for bus only through traffic. (I assume the dead ends were created when the cinemas were built so as to prevent auto traffic form overwhelming the more residential in nature south end of Brooks St. I agree that auto traffic should not be permitted on this segment of Brooks St., and a gate or other access control device should be installed so as to limit access to WRTA buses only).

The route then travels the I-190 access roads between Ararat St. and Shore Dr., and turns west on Shore Dr. to serve the west entrance to Norton, the Greendale YMCA and the Bancroft School.

Detail of Shore Drive Stops for Proposed Bus Route 0131
The route then turns south down Holden St. and turns west onto Nelson Place immediately before Holden St. intersects with Grove St. Nelson Place currently connects to the back of the campus of Assumption College.

Detail of Assumption College Connections for Proposed Bus Route 0131
While the connection does currently exist, it does not appear to be in use with any regularity. I believe the connection is gated and the end of Nelson Place is unimproved (private street?) and was in pretty rough shape about a year ago when I was exploring the area.

Section of City Tax Map Tile J15 Showing Unimproved Section of Nelson Place and Connection to Assumption College at Left
Like the dead ends on Brooks St., it appears that the gate exists to prevent Assumption College auto traffic from overwhelming the primarily residential street. In addition to improving Nelson Place for through bus traffic, a gate or other access control device should be installed so as to limit access to WRTA buses only.

From Assumption College, the route travels along Flagg and May Sts., serving Worcester State University and crossing a number of radial routes out of downtown including Pleasant St. (Route 0324), Chandler St. (Route 0622), June St. (Route 0716), Park Ave. (Route 2327) and Main St. (Route 2633).

Detail of West Side Connections for Proposed Bus Route 0131
 At Main St., the route continues along Hammond St. to Southbridge St., where it then heads downtown on Southbridge St., skirting the near east side of downtown along New Salem St. where it connects with the AIRLINE BRT System at the Junction District Station. The line then continues along McGrath Blvd. where it then connects to Union Station.

Detail of Downtown Segment for Proposed Bus Route 0131

Friday, April 15, 2011

Worcester via I-101 and I-84 (or, is I-290 East-West or North-South?)

I did not grow up in Worcester, but I have lived here for more than five years. You would think that by now I would not still be getting I-290 and I-190 confused and I would not have to think so hard about the whole east-west or north-south question when it came to giving directions for I-290, but both issues still confuse me on a regular basis.

Interstate Highways In and Around Worcester, MA - I-90 (MA Turnpike) in Green; I-395 in Orange; I-290 in Blue; I-190 in Yellow
There are a few misconceptions I brought with me, however, that I have come to correct during this time: The MA Pike does not run through Worcester proper at any point; I-290, although signed as an east-west highway, generally follows a north-south orientation through downtown Worcester; and if traveling to Worcester from Boston, traveling the MA Pike all the way to I-290 to get to Worcester is not the fastest way to go.

I have often wondered if there was some way we could clean up the numbering of the auxiliary (i.e., 3 digit) interstates in and around Worcester to make it less confusing and help users orient themselves better when traveling through our city. As mentioned earlier, I never knew downtown Worcester was west (and not north) of I-290 until I moved here. As someone who was generally traveling northwest on an interstate signed as east-west, I always thought I was actually traveling east through Worcester and downtown was to the north. The I-395 designation makes no sense to me either. The concept that I-395 in Auburn is an auxiliary route to I-95 some 65 miles south never made any sense to me.

If we step back a little and look at the interstate system around Worcester, you can see that the combination of the current I-395, I-290 through downtown and I-190 is really just one long continuous north-south interstate. (Those interested in reading about the history around the building of these roads, check out or search the road name at Wikipedia).

Wider View of Interstate Highways In and Around Worcester, MA - I-90 (MA Turnpike) in Green; I-395 in Orange; I-290 in Blue; I-190 in Yellow
Why don't we combine these three interstates and renumber them as one primary north-south highway? For the MA segment we could name it the Worcester County Expressway (the Worcester segment of I-290 is already at least informally known as the Worcester Expressway).

Proposed Renumbering of I-395, I-290 (Downtown segment) and I-190 into One Primary North-South Interstate (Red)
The question then becomes one of what number to give to this route. Interstate numbering conventions would require a number in the 90's ending in an odd number. Unfortunately, all odd numbers in the 90's are already in use. Digging a little deeper, there seems to be two options:
  1. Interstate 97 (N) - There is precedence in the current numbering system for the same number to be used in different parts of the country. For example, there is the I-84 (E) that we are familiar with here in New England, but there is also an I-84 (W) running from northern Utah to Portland, OR. There are currently four even numbered interstate highways that have this dual designation and no odd numbered interstate highways with such a designation. Currently, I-97 is an 18 mile intrastate highway connecting the MD cities of Baltimore and Annapolis. This is the only odd numbered interstate in the 90's in the South - Interstates 91, 93 and 95 all presently serve portions of New England and therefore are not available, and I-99 is an existing interstate in PA.
  2. Interstate 101 - This is an exciting choice as it breaks the rule that a primary highway have a two digit number. Typically, three digit numbers are reserved for auxiliary interstate highways such as I-290 today. Using this convention, Interstate 101 would be an auxiliary route of Interstate 1, which does seem to currently exist or be in the works. There is also precedence here - according to the Wikipedia page on US Route 101:
According to the AASHTO's numbering scheme for U.S. Highways, three-digit route numbers are generally subsidiaries of two-digit routes. However, the principal north–south routes were assigned numbers ending in 1. Rather than lose four available north–south numbers (93, 95, 97, and 99) or assign the primary west coast highway a "lesser" number, the AASHTO made an exception to its two-digit rule. Thus, U.S. 101 is treated as a primary, two-digit route with a "first digit" of 10, rather than a spur of U.S. 1. Thus U.S. Route 101, not U.S. 99, is the westernmost north–south route in the U.S. Highway system.

I like I-101 personally, it's got a nice ring to it.

This leaves us with what to do with the segment of the present day I-290 that really does run generally east-west between Marlborough and Worcester. The roadway functions as an auxiliary interstate, and because this segment connects two interstates, its not a spur, but functions most like a segment of a circumferential highway and therefore should have an even number prefix. We could probably technically retain the I-290 designation as there does not seem to be a requirement that it connect directly to its primary interstate (I-190 does not connect directly to I-90). This designation would be a nice link to the past, but if the goal here is to clean things up and make the signage simpler I think we need to consider other options.

Another option would be to add the 2 prefix to the renumbered primary north-south highway - I-297 works nicely, I-2101 technically works but would probably be asking too much of the sign administrators in DC. Stepping back again and taking a wider view of the interstate system around Worcester, another option comes to mind.

Wider View of Interstate Highways In and Around Worcester, MA - I-90 (MA Turnpike) in Green; I-395 in Orange; I-290 in Blue; I-190 in Yellow
Another option that I like is extending I-84 from its present eastern terminus in Sturbridge to Marlborough. I-84 would share the existing I-90 roadway between Sturbridge and Auburn, then share the renumbered I-101 through Worcester, and then split off eastward towards Marlborough by itself along the present day east-west segment of I-290. This dual numbering of one roadway appears to be a common occurrence.

Proposed Extension of I-84 (Blue) from Current Terminus at Sturbridge through Worcester and Terminating at Marlborough

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 0716

Current Bus Routes 7 and 16 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red), Visitor Trolley (Green) and other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
The proposed combined routes 7 and 16 function as a "South Loop" connecting a number of bus lines running east, south and west of downtown and connecting Union Station to Webster Square via the Canal District and South Worcester.

The current route 7 bus follows a twisted path southwest out of City Hall and provides front door service to the Family Health Center of Worcester on Queen St. (route 6 also serves the Family Health Center at Chandler St., 2 blocks away). Route 7 then travels south down Park Ave. (the only current bus route that travels any segment of Park Ave.) to Mill St., ending at Washington Heights Apartments.

The proposed 0716 preserves the Mill St. segment and extends this line further out Mill St. to June St., where it then travels the entire length of June St. to Newton Square.
Detail of West Side Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0716 (Blue) and Other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
 At Park Ave., the line is rerouted through Webster Square and then travels along Cambridge St., through Brosnihan Square and then along Harding and Water Sts. to Union Station. 

Detail of Webster Square to Union Station Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0716 (Blue) and Other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
Heading east out of Union Station, the line follows the current path of the route 16 bus up Grafton St. to Billings Square, east along Hamilton St., then north along Lake Ave. The proposed line terminates at the Lake Quinsigamond stop of the AIRLINE BRT system. The current route 16 bus continues on from here to Lincoln Plaza via Plantation St. I am working on a "North Loop" that will incorporate this segment.

Detail of East Side Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0716 (Blue) and Other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Revs in Worcester: Nick Cuba Runs the Numbers

In a post last week I tried to guesstimate the 60 mi. radius populations for Worcester and Boston and invited anyone who might be able to develop a more accurate estimate to send me the data and I would do an update. Well, Nick Cuba, a grad student in geography at Clark University here in Worcester answered the call, and here's what his analysis shows. (For those interested in how Nick arrived at these numbers, see his explanation at **** below).

Above Courtesy of Nick Cuba
Turns out that at a 60 mi. radius, Worcester has a population greater than both Foxboro and Boston, by about 1 million people in each case. The populations are pretty much the same for all three markets at the 45 mi. radius. At the 30 mile radius, the Foxboro and Somerville populations are more than 2.5x greater that that of Worcester. Finally, the 15 mi. radius data shows that the Somerville population is 3x that of either Foxboro or Worcester. I made the map below showing all four circles around the Worcester market so I could see exactly what cities and towns were included in each circle.

The Worcester Market at 15, 30, 45 and 60 Mile Radii
My previous estimates led me to conclude that, assuming the market for the New England Revolution is a 60 mi. radius centered on the stadium, the Worcester market was about 1 million people less than the Boston market. Based on Nick's better estimated and updated data, it appears that the Worcester market is perhaps bigger than the Boston market by about 1 million people, further supporting the argument that a Worcester based stadium has just as large (if not larger) a population base from which to draw.

A key issue however that Nick's data points out is that the 15 and 30 mi. radius populations for Worcester are significantly below that of a Boston (and Foxboro in the case of the 30 mi. radius population) based SSS stadium location. The large 15 and 30 mi. radius numbers for a Boston based stadium are what make this location so attractive and the consensus first choice for the Revs. On the flip side, however, this density means that large parcels of available land at affordable prices are few and far between.

In his e-mail to me, Nick concluded "[t]he plausibility of a Worcester site seems almost totally tied to the question of how much of a "destination" sport (a la NFL) the MLS is." Given the above data, I too believe that success in Worcester would require the market to think of a Worcester SSS as a "destination." While the MLS (and the individual teams themselves) no doubt hold a lot of influence in developing this "destination" brand for the MLS as a whole, we cannot forget the significance that PLACE (city and stadium) contributes to this "destination" equation.

My earlier Parade to the Pitch post is one example of how Worcester in general and the Wyman-Gordon parcel specifically offers a unique PLACE for the development of a successful SSS destination for the Revolution. Future posts will further explore this idea.

**** Nick's discussion behind the numbers: "Attached is a table/chart showing population (census 2010 towns) by radius distance for Worcester, Somerville, and Foxborough sites. I got a little more interested as I started and so analyzed market size at 15, 30, 45, and 60 mile radii. Even though Boston is the hub of hwys e.g. 90, 93, 95, the difference between these results and one based on drive-time along roads may not be substantial. Worcester isn't as well connected as Boston, but it's pretty much a straight shot from Hartford and Springfield, which are the reasons why it's top end figure here is higher than the other sites.

Since there are a few cities which are outliers with respect to population (e,g, Boston, Worcester, Providence) somewhat arbitrary methodological choices may be highly consequential. FWIW I counted a city's population toward a site's market if the city's geographic center was within the radius (actually clipping towns by the circle would have taken longer; that method of extraction also rests on the assumption that population is distributed equally throughout a town, so it's unclear if it would even be any more accurate). I've attached another image (below) which should illustrate what I did."

Above Courtesy of Nick Cuba

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Could Worcester's Junction Shops Become a Hot Bed for Video Game Design?

The title of this post is derived from a recent article in the Boston Globe, Is Worcester a hot bed for video-game design?, which mentions that Worcester's Becker College and WPI again ranked in the Top 10 of US schools for studying video game design.

I attended the MA Creative Economy Council meeting held at the Hanover Theatre a few weeks back. Among other items discussed, Becker College president Robert Johnson briefly talked about the tremendous growth of the video game design industry in recent years and highlighted MA and Worcester's emerging leadership role in this area. Becker's Tim Loew, Director of Academic Planning & Operations, then briefly discussed efforts to get the MA Video Game Institute (VGI) - a partnership between industry, academia & government to promote and nurture the development of the video game design industry in MA - open for business on Becker's Worcester campus by this fall.

I think starting the MA VGI at Becker is the right move, right now this incubator needs to be incubated. Given Becker's reputation in the field and the leadership and initiative they have demonstrated in this area lately, Becker makes for a good match. Thinking a few years out, however, if the MA VGI is indeed successful and needs significantly more space for expansion, where and how will it expand? There is where I think that Worcester's Junction Shops present a really exciting opportunity for the MA VGI.

The Junction Shops consists of three parcels totaling approximately 4.6 acres of land with a FY 2011 assessed value (which, in MA, is theoretically the same as the market value) of $1.1MM. The largest parcel, at 2.8 acres, contains 200,000 SF + of historic and mostly vacant multi-story industrial space. The other two parcels, one across Beacon St. and the other across Jackson St. from the main parcel are presently undeveloped.

The Junction Shops Property (Brown) in Worcester, MA
This is a good sized property, but one feature it lacks is frontage on a main road. Given all of the troubles lately with the Platinum Premier club here in Worcester, perhaps they may be interested in selling their property? The Platinum Premier parcels lie between the Junction Shops and Southbridge St. and offer more than 350 ft. of frontage along Southbridge St., a major downtown Worcester artery. The three parcels (owned by two different entities which I assume are ultimately controlled by the same individual/entity) total approximately 2.1 acres of land and have a FY 2011 assessed value of $999,000.

The Junction Shops (Brown) and Platinum Premiere (Yellow) Properties in Worcester, MA
I like the idea of making Southbridge St. the primary address and front door to the world for the Junction Shops. I believe that most Worcesterite's don't feel strongly one way or another about Southbridge St., it's just another street in downtown Worcester. In fact, between the Hanover Theatre, Guertin Graphics & Awards, Union Music and Coney Island, which combined draw 1000's of city and suburban visitors a month to the street, I would argue that most people have a somewhat positive image of the street. The benefits associated with this apparent neutral image are twofold: 1) you don't have to undo a negative image, and 2) you can promote and develop a positive image that suits the area's overall development goals.

Combined, the Junction Shops and Platinum Premier parcels offer 6.7 acres of land and 200,000 SF + of historic multi-story industrial space with a FY 2011 assessed value of $2.1MM. Long term, I support the development of a dense urban district developed following smart growth principals, but near term I am well aware of Worcester's love for their car and convenient parking. So, as a first step in the redevelopment process, I would suggest starting out with surface parking on the outer lots.

The Junction Shops Buildings (Brown) and Proposed Surface Parking (Yellow)
The proposed parking lot parcels total approximately 3.9 acres of land. A full size parking space is 10 ft x 20 ft, or 200 SF, plus lets say another 200 SF per space for circulation (the lots are odd shaped which typically results in a very inefficient parking lot), so a total of 400 SF per parking space or 109 parking spaces per acre. At 3.9 acres, we would be able to park approximately 425 cars. Worcester general parking requirements for office are one space per 300 SF of building, so 425 spaces allows us to develop 127,500 SF of the approximately 200,000 SF available for redevelopment as-of-right. Make the spaces a little smaller, which is standard in surface parking lots in urban area, and you could probably pick up another couple of dozen parking spaces.