The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF), a Boston-based preservation group, has agreed to purchase the iconic Worcester Auditorium for $450,000, according to the City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. .
Constructed in 1932 as a memorial to the 9,000 local veterans who fought in World War I, the Auditorium is completely vacant now and has been largely vacant since 1999.
AHF is looking to rehabilitate and turn the auditorium into an innovative digital technology, arts and education center. It will also provide a forum for state-of-the-art commercial entertainment and an incubator for business entrepreneurs involved in the 21st-century digital media industry. The plan calls for a main auditorium, which will be able to seat 1,500 to 2,000 people, converting the Little Theatre to a 300-seat IMAX-style theater, a kitchen to serve a dining area in the War Memorial Hall and other video, media and production rooms.
The rehabilitation and restoration project is expected to cost $94 million, according to city documents. Conveyance of the property will contain necessary conditions and restrictions to preserve the exterior building façades, lobby, Memorial Hall, a rare Kimball Organ and interior murals, one of which is a massive 60 feet wide by 30 feet tall.
The agreement between the City of Worcester and AHF calls for the property to close in two years on June 15, 2021, including benchmarks that must be achieved within the timeframe, according to a letter from Augustus to the City Council.
Transformation of Lincoln Square as Gateway in Worcester
The Worcester Auditorium redevelopment is one piece of several redevelopments at one of Worcester’s most high-profile intersections.
The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science jump-started the process of revitalizing the Lincoln Square area in 2010 when it bought the Crowne Plaza Hotel for $16.8 million and a few years later when it bought the former manufacturing site of Morgan Construction in 2013 for $2.9 million. These two properties combine with additional other downtown properties to form an urban college campus of about 2200 enrolled students and 275 employees.
In 2014 , the old Worcester Vocational Technical School was converted to the Voke Lofts by Winn Development. The 84 rental units have a stylish, “light industrial look” characterized by brick walls, high, unpainted wood ceilings with exposed piping and huge windows and modern appliances. Demand has been strong from the get-go, attracting both professionals and graduate students.
Recently, the old courthouse building redevelopment has served as the catalyst for increased investment in the Lincoln Square area. In 2017, Trinity Financial of Boston purchased the 246,000 square foot courthouse for $1.3 million. Financing for the $53 million project has been aided by two rounds of historic tax credits worth $800,000 each. Construction of the 117-apartment, mixed-use development began a few months ago in March.
The last piece of the puzzle could be finding the right adaptive reuse for the vacant Lincoln Square Boys Club. As the City’s preferred developer, Winn Development had reached an agreement with autism school Summit Academy for it to be their new home, but the school pulled out of the project in May. Given the highly visible location, interest from other schools and companies seems certain.
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