… I snapped these photos of the Latin American Festival, City Hall.
– Rosalie Tirella
Festival, brought to you by …
But first, in the a.m., … head to the REC FARMERS MARKET at Crystal Park!
Then from noon to 9 p.m.
on the Worcester Common, behind City Hall
(Main Street, DOWNTOWN WORCESTER)
Bands, singers, dancers, visual artists, kids activities …
food trucks, vendors, flags, fun …
It’s Centro’s LATIN AMERICAN FEST!
MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC!
By Rosalie Tirella
Some Worcester projects just drag on and on and on.
For example: The Wyman Gordon site, at Green Island’s Lamartine Street. Now a brown field, it was once a thriving factory and serious economic booster for Green Islanders. Today it lies empty, ugly and toxic.
… or Piedmont’s Chandler Elementary School. The families there need a larger school building to accommodate the hundereds of kids that the city educates there. A good chunk of the student body is being bussed daily to other learning sites in the city. On a smaller scale, up until very recently, its trashed back doors and side windows needed replacing … (pics:R.T.)
These projects in our urban core just never seem to get off the ground. Like the perennial lead balloon, these inner-city sites – a reflection of Worcester political leaders’ lack of commitment to poorer/minority neighborhoods and poor/minority folks (usually people with little political clout ) – just keep rolling along Lamartine Street, Murray Ave or Chandler Street. Every election cycle our politicians ever so elegantly dance over these lead balloons: Yes! they say, we feel your pain! (they absolutely do NOT!). Yes! we know half of Chandler Elementary school’s student body is being bussed out to other city buildings to learn because the building is so over populated! (How many West Side parents would put up with that kind of school-day disruption for their precious kiddies?!) Yes! We know the school’s back doors are wooden and rotten and look like some one’s trying to kick them in and the wood windows are damaged badly, but, hey, we’re working on it! (finally – yes – the school’s doors were recently replaced with heavy green metal ones and the damaged heavy wooden windows replaced with new ones – see photo, above)
Here is our latest urban core lead balloon over which the city is self-flagellating but not moving on – even though a BEAUTIFUL USE for it was recently presented to the City Manager and Co. by former Worcester City Councilor Juan Gomez :
It’s the old PIP building in Main South – and the LATINO ARTS/PERFORMANCE CENTER it could have become!
Formerly one of the state’s two or three only “wet” shelters (drunk, high, stoned homeless welcome here!) residents and small businesses in Main South and city leaders (most notably former District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller) clamored for years for the PIP to be shut down. The drug users were shooting up heroin a few streets outside the PIP’s doors and then staggering into the social service agency for supper, medical care and a cot to sleep in for the night . Morning came and they walked out into the Main South neighborhood, some on their way to getting clean and sober, but most looking to get high all over again and repeat the brutal cycle. Usually just yards away from the PIP’s back doors! Nearby Main South small biz folks were outraged, lower Main South residents fearful and without hope.
Then a few years ago, the unimaginable happened: Thanks mostly to Haller and Main South community activist Billy Breault, the PIP was FINALLY shut down. Homeless addicts and hardcore alcoholics are now being helped in other places in the city – social service agencies that refuse them if they are high and transport them to hospitals for detoxification; places/half way homes with more security; social service agencies with impressive, structured programs.
So now the old PIP building has become another Woo lead balloon!
For their/your information: the PIP building ITSELF is STILL attracting junkies, staggering alcoholics and high homeless folks! Scrawny, weather beaten women are STILL TODAY walking the walk outside its doors, along Charlton Street, looking to sell their bodies to buy a bag of cheap smack from the heroin dearler who himself is usually just a few yards away. The tired and high but hopeless STILL sit on the curb stones by the PIP nodding off, heads in their hands, rocking to and fro, murmuring to themselves. So sad…They are still breaking into nearby vehicles to “sleep it off” or look for money in glove compartments to buy drugs. Guns are still being fired.
The PIP building is STILL an affront to the hardwordking small business folks who are trying to make a living and create jobs! It’s STILL a late night, cacophony-filled nightmare for Main South residents trying to hold down jobs and raise their families right!
Enter the adorable, strong-willled, smart-as-the-bow-ties-he-wears Juan Gomez, executive director of Centro on nearby Sycamore Street – just two streets down. Gomez, a former Worcester City Councilor and a recent city councilor candidate, has been head of the city’s premier Latino social sevice agency for several years now. And he’s run with it! Programs for the Hispanic elderly, hungry and displaced have expanded! Their outreach to the Worcester Hispanic population grows stronger by the day. Education, art, small biz … Juan is trying to support it all! Do it all! The yearly summertime and terrific Latino Music Festival, put on in large part through support from Centro, is another jewel in Worcester’s cultural crown. In other words, Centro, which has been around for years, is UP AND COMING !, thanks in no small part to the little power house and biz-savvy, Republican, feet-on-the-ground-but-not-afraid-to-dream Juan Gomez, himself a second generation American and a profile in courage as a cancer survivor.
So I cheered when Centro purchased a few pieces of tired property, really a good bit of Sycamore Street, next to and across the street from Centro. For additional office space and parking, Juan says. Needed because their expanded services and mission needs more space in a very densely populated inner city neighborhood.
Here’s the most intriguing/best part…Centro, through Juan, planned on buying the PIP building to create a Latino Arts Center/Community Space open to ALL. It would have showcased the arts/culture and artists of Puerto Rico and Central America. Worcester folks with roots from those countries and territory would be able to enjoy a beautiful slice of their or their parents/grandparents homelands. THEIR ROOTS. THEIR HERITAGE. A POSITIVE PICTURE. There were plans for a performance space with a stage for dancers, musicians, singers, poets. There would have been classrooms for artist workshops and community art or music classes. All with an eye on nurturing and promoting Latino art and artists!
TERRIFIC! I thought to myself. What a wonderful addition to the Worcester Family! To a CITY that SAYS it embraces racial and economic DIVERSITY as manifested through its population!
Juan applied to the City of Worcester for a $100,000+ community block grant to help buy the PIP building. The City Manager’s office said NO, NOPE, no thanks. Not interested in supporting this arts center. The grant money went to other Worcester social service agencies – all doing fine work but nothing as WONDERFUL and INSPIRED/INSPIRING as what this Latino Arts building would have meant to our Latino/ minority community, ALL WORCESTERITES and DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION.
The PIP is a big, multi-storied building that is in EXCELLENT shape (I toured it a few years ago). It would have made a great arts center. It has a big commercial kitchen, many bathrooms, meeting rooms and a big open first floor space. Perfect!
Yet city leaders, who claim to be urban visionaries, couldn’t “see” the brilliance and beauty of Juan Gomez’s vision. For his people. For downtown. For all of Worcester County, really.
So often the Latinos that make the news – and shape our collective vision of their culture – are in the stories about Latinos in Worcester riding illegal dirt bikes, getting arrested for drug dealing, getting stabbed over that, shot over this. THE FEW BAD SEEDS. (I’ve always been amazed that grinding poverty and prejudice haven’t made more people angry killers!) Wouldn’t it be great to read, daily, about the good and amazing in Latino culture? The famous Latino guitarist visiting the CENTRO ARTS CENTRE or those wonderful Salsa dancers who performed over in Main South at the CENTRO ARTS CENTRE … or the city kids who are discovering a famous Hispanic painter in the summer art class they’re taking at the CENTRO ARTS CENTRE?
That is how you cure white people of racial prejudice!
Present a different – the TRUE – PICTURE of a culture to them!
Keep doing this every day…and prejudices will begin to melt away. Work to have people, white, brown, black, poor, rich interact with each other every day – meet in celebratory, educational places to see WHO THEY REALLY ARE.
That is how we break down barriers and make society more equitable, freer…
The CENTRO ARTS center would have been a BOON for all of us! Instead the city manager and city staff and city political leaders shut their eyes and missed an opportunity with the PIP building! Which is really nutty and pathetic, besides being horribly short-sighted, because they often talk about how there is little racism in Worcester or how seriously they take racial inequity. That’s a lie. They don’t know any better. Yet they need to!
If anything, out of self interest:
Main South is only a block or two away from our planned BRIGHT NEW SHINY DOWNTOWN! City Manager Ed Augustus wants a BEAUTIFUL and BUSTLING downtown Worcester to be his legacy. He’s got an urban renewal game plan and making it happen. It’s a shame he can’t walk just two blocks up from his beloved downtown and his office in City Hall to see all the horrible shit STILL GOING DOWN IN FRONT OF AND ON THE SIDE of the PIP building . The junkies STILL passed out in front of the PIP are just the beginning…
Now, I ask you, how can we create a downtown Worcester that WILL DRAW MILLENIALS AND THE UPWARDLY MOBILE AND THE MIDDLE CLASS EMPTY NESTERS if, on their way to a show at the Hanover or a road race that starts at City Hall or a visit to a cool, urbane downtown restaurant for martinis and sushi, they see some guy pretend butt fucking some gal outside the PIP building, like I have? Or several more lost souls sitting on the curb or overturned gray plastic milk crates picked out of Dumpsters waiting for their man so they can shoot up and get high?
What will this little gritty scene say about the new and trendy Worcester to people who will, in some cases, be driving by the PIP?!
Can you dig it?!
The City of Worcester movers and shakers can’t.
No need to plumb city leaders’ psyches for a deep answer…But let’s just say the city is run by a bunch of unforgiving vindictive shit heads who never forget a slight or a misstatement or a move that was not in sync with their political plans and have no trouble turning the lone riders the lone visionaries into PERSON NON GRATA. Crap. Juan Gomez, as a Worcester city councilor, was always his own man. But in a very nice, respectful way. Sometimes he’s been passionate about what he truly believes in. Nothing wrong, everything right, about that! But his passion for the Hispanic livery drivers and their customers during his last few months as a Worcester City Councilor (that’s why they were his last few months!) turned lots of political movers and shakers off. They whispered amongst themselves: Juan’s gone rogue! When he lead a group of clapping chanting livery drivers out of City Hall as a show of solidarity during a city council meeting when he was city councilor, well, that didn’t do at all! His political demise was written on the City Council chambers wall…
We loved it! Juan was right! Juan was real and cool and INSPIRING! The city shitheads renounced him, in their heads, right then and there! Here was the Juan who used to eat lunch with former City Manager Tom Hoover over at the MID TOWN MALL, across from City Hall, over at the Latino lunch hot spot SABANA’s being mentally blacklisted! He used to tell Tom Hoover: Come! Enjoy the spicey treats of my culture! Hoover did! Along with the scores of other cool folks! The line for lunch at Sabana’s used to go our the door! The old cool Worcester vibe! Back then it wasn’t all smug and phoney and boutiquey. Just urban. A white Polish guy from Toledo breaking bread with a little Puerto Rican guy from Worcester! Enormous!
Can you imagine Ed Augustus eating lunch in the MID TOWN MALL (a place on his urban renewal hit list) with Juan Gomez, a political outcast? Especially after Juan felt cheated after this election and held a press conference or two about it and almost pushed for a ballot recount?!
Of course the City of Worcester wasn’t going to give Juan his Latino arts center, give him the $$$hundred-plus grand he needed to begin his project.
It’s the Worcester way!
So the PIP continues to languish and be an unsightly magnet for drugs and crime EVERY DAY. And Worcester’s Hispanic community and Downtown Worcester don’t get a cool, racial barrier busting Latino Arts Center!
Another lead balloon rolls down Worcester!
By Ron O’Clair
I was fortunate enough to interview Mr. Juan Gomez, the executive director of Centro, located at 11 Sycamore St. He informed me of the plans that the organization has been working on to deal with a cramped facility at the Sycamore Street location.
The property located at 14 and 16 Sycamore Street directly across from their building had come up for sale and the Centro organization bought it. They plan to tear down the front building and renovate the rear bungalow into extra office space to relieve the overcrowded conditions in their existing building.
The area where the front building now sits will be turned into a parking area to relieve the pressing need for space to park for the clients and staff of Centro.
There are plans in the works also to raise the capital needed to purchase the old PIP building at 695 – 701 Main Street which was previously the site of the only “wet” homeless shelter in Worcester. The shelter operations moved out of that facility on the 22nd of May in 2014 to a new, more modern but smaller facility at 25 Queen St., across from the old City Hospital Campus that is now a part of U. Mass.
According to Mr. Gomez, if Centro manages to acquire the PIP property, they have plans to place an International Multi-Cultural Performing Arts Center at the site, open to all ethnic groups from around the world that now live in Worcester.
I have to say bravo to this plan, as it is sure to complement the area, and any use of the old shelter site would be a welcome addition to the 700 block of my Main Street neighborhood, as well as keeping an eye on the property that now sits vacant and unused.
Any development in this area would be a welcome addition.
The property that I manage for the last 13 years has also changed hands, and the new owners are looking to upgrade the property and the grounds with a heavy infusion of investment capital which is what it sorely needs at this juncture in its life. We have already taken steps to evict all of the people who resided in the building under the previous owner who have been part of the problem, allowing street people inside to use the facilities reserved for paying tenants only.
That is what the proximity to the old PIP shelter has meant for this property since the time previous owner Julio E. Romero plunked down his life savings to buy it in 2003 from Mr. Paul M, Berger who had his “Berger Army & Navy Store” in the 709-711 Main Street Commercial spaces for many years. After having a string of bad tenants and those who were harder to evict than you can imagine, Senor Romero lost his investment and his property to a bank foreclosure as happens to many property owners here in Massachusetts where the law works against the people who are responsible and do not use drugs and for the ones who go from landlord to landlord stiffing all of them in order to stay without having to pay rent. Many use all the rent money to further their drug addictions.
I should know. I’ve been the live-in property manager of the rooming house for more than a decade.
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