Some of Worcester’s biggest boosters took their message about the city’s economic development agenda east on Tuesday, telling commercial real estate professionals why they should consider the Central Massachusetts city.
“We’ve learned that there’s a world of real estate beyond Boston and Cambridge,” said Larry Curtis, president and managing partner of WinnDevelopment, which has been working in Worcester for 30 years. “You can actually do deals and make money in Worcester.”
Mr. Curtis and officials from the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Pawtucket Red Sox and development firm Madison Properties described their efforts in Worcester to members of NAIOP, a trade organization, at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel. NAIOP had previously scheduled the “What’s New in the Woo” lunch event at a smaller location, but switched to the Seaport District hotel because so many people signed up. About 200 attended.
The redevelopment of real estate in Worcester, the emergence of new restaurants and retailers, and the Pawtucket Red Sox minor league baseball team’s decision to relocate to Worcester from Rhode Island have gained the attention of national media in recent months.
But new information also emerged Tuesday about one key Worcester development project. Madison Properties of Boston, which is proposing to redevelop more than 15 acres of former Wyman-Gordon Co. industrial land in Worcester’s Canal District as part of a new baseball park, now plans an office building with a top-floor deck rather than a hotel next to the ballpark’s left field wall.
“We think this is going to be one of the coolest office buildings in Worcester, just in terms of employee retention and being in the middle of this district with all this excitement happening,” said Denis Dowdle, president of Madison Properties of Boston.
Mr. Dowdle said Madison Properties now plans one 250-room hotel in the development, rather than two. A building with 225 apartments is planned next to the hotel, and construction on the office, hotel and apartments will begin in the next 12 months.
The developers and Dan Rea, executive vice president of real estate development and business affairs for the Pawtucket Red Sox, told the real estate professionals that Worcester is a “user friendly” place to do deals. When the baseball team decided to look beyond Rhode Island for a new location, Worcester and Massachusetts clearly explained what they could and could not contribute to a new ballpark with capacity for 10,000 fans, according to Mr. Rea.
“I go back to the word pragmatic,” said Mr. Rea. “The city of Worcester was very pragmatic.”
A least one problem continues to dog Worcester development, however. Mr. Curtis of WinnDevelopment said developers still need subsidies to build projects in Worcester
“Rents are not $4,000, $5,000, $6,000 a month like they are here in the Seaport, which support the capital cost of new development,” Mr. Curtis said. “Even the market rate units, if everything goes right, are $2,400 to $2,500 a month, which makes it hard to support new development.”
WinnDevelopment even walked away from a project to redevelop a former Unum Group building in downtown Worcester because it could not make it work financially. Now the company is working on a different building, the former Boys and Girls Club at Lincoln Square.
“We haven’t found a way yet to buy a piece of land, permit it and build a building and make those $3,400-a-month rents work with the capital cost of building the building,” Mr. Curtis said. “But it’s almost there.”
by Lisa Eckelbecker