Wall Street Journal praises Worcester for downtown approach

But first …

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By Steven R. Maher

Worcester received high praise from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) this past Tuesday, March 21, 2017. The city’s success in tearing down the old Worcester Center Galleria and replacing it with offices, apartments and a hotel is seen as an example other struggling cities should follow.

The WSJ reported this in a page 3 article, showing a 2008 photograph of Worcester’s downtown which showed a deserted city with rust-colored ground in older industrial parcels. More favorable for the city was a recent photo showing larger patches of bright, white concrete in a city center bustling with activity and development.

“A hotel and an apartment complex are rising on a street here that was buried by a shopping mall for four decades,” began the article. “A new office building also opened nearby, replacing a structure that failed to resuscitate this New England city’s core.” The WSJ quoted City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. of the old Galleria: “We don’t want these big dead walls.”

“You can’t put lipstick on a pig,” former Mayor Tim Murray told the newspaper of the old mall. “It was a design disaster.”

$300 Million Private Investment

The Journal reported that the city spent $90 million to demolish and rebuild city streets. The report stated: “The investment set the table for $300 million in private development, thus far, which the city said would generate higher taxes. The downtown in Worcester’s second largest is enjoying a broader rebound from years of postindustrial malaise. The population is growing, and apartments and restaurants have also popped up in refurbished older buildings around the city core.”

“It’s critical for cities to not just wring their hands about mistakes of an earlier era, but to find solutions,” August was quoted as saying.

The journal went on to review other urban cities which built new malls in their downtowns, while shoppers fled to the suburbs. As the malls lost their tenants, real estate values around the malls plummeted.

“Demolition [of the Galleria] finally started in 2010,” continued the WSJ. “Insurer Unum Group built an office building there, opened in 2013, and a cancer center is also open. What will eventually be 365 apartment units by developer Roseland Residential Trust are rising nearby, as is a 168-room hotel. Trains to Boston are a short walk away on a rebuilt downtown street.”