Long a College Town, Worcester Now Looks the Part

After visiting 2 Worcester, MA colleges on March 29 (WPI and Clark – write-ups and photos were posted previously and can also be found on our web site, signaturecollegecounseling.com), I was able to experience and view this city in a way that I had never been able to previously. This is a college town and the attached article from the NY Times goes into detail about how this city has grown and the breadth to which it fulfills those that go to college there.

Photo: Worcester City Hall and Worcester Common in December. The Massachusetts city of about 182,000 is home to nine institutions of higher learning. Credit Charlie Mahoney for The New York Times

To read article “Long a College Town, Worcester Now Looks the Part” online at New York Times website, click here

Long a College Town, Worcester Now Looks the Part

Although College of the Holy Cross was founded here in 1843, and eight other prominent institutions of higher learning followed, it has taken most of the last two centuries for this sizable New England city to consider itself a college town.

It does now. From one end of the city’s 245-acre central core to the other, Worcester is attending to the 35,000 college students who study and live here, and its primary boulevards are steadily filling up with the civic amenities that attract new residents. They include a busy public transit hub, comfortable and affordable housing, new restaurants and watering holes, computer stores and coffee shops, a performing arts theater, biotech research facilities, incubators and office space for start-up companies, and renovated parks — including one alongside City Hall with an ice rink larger than the one in Rockefeller Center.

The newest project in Worcester’s revitalization portfolio is CitySquare, a $565 million, 12-acre mixed-use development just east of City Hall. It replaces a two-story, one-million-square-foot downtown shopping mall that took up almost 10 percent of Worcester’s central business district.

The former Worcester Center Galleria, built at a cost of $127 million, thrived for a decade after it opened in 1971, but by the turn of the century it had gone dark. In the two years since it was demolished, Worcester spent $59 million burying utilities, preparing building sites for new construction, and reconstructing and connecting four streets in the district to the city’s street grid.

Market interest in CitySquare has been strong, according to city data. In 2013, Unum, a Tennessee-based insurer, opened a $76 million, 214,000-square-foot, seven-story office tower alongside an 860-space parking garage. St. Vincent Hospital built a $30 million Cancer and Wellness Center.

Across the street, the Worcester Regional Transit Authority built a $14 million bus transit hub alongside 103-year-old Union Station, which reopened in 2000 after a $32 million renovation. The station is on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited line and is a stop for 20 commuter trains daily to and from Boston that serve 1,500 passengers.

In 2014, the city and Hanover Insurance Group, the primary landholder and CitySquare development manager, finished agreements with Roseland Property Company to build 370 market-rate rental apartments in a cluster of five-story residential buildings at a cost of $90 million. The first building will hold 239 apartments; the second building, 131.

Next door to the apartments will be a $36 million, six-story Marriott hotel with 150 rooms. The hotel will sit atop a two-level parking deck, now being built, that will be large enough for 550 vehicles.

Construction of the residential project is scheduled to start this spring, with hotel construction to follow.

Just a single 1.2-acre parcel in CitySquare remains undeveloped. City officials and Hanover executives said they were marketing the land as a prime downtown site for an office tower, with spaces for ground-floor retailing.

“For so many years the old mall just served as a big roadblock for people and vehicles in our downtown,” said Michael E. Traynor, the city’s chief development officer.

“You couldn’t walk from City Hall to the train station. It just killed the spirit of this city and was a big turnoff for students,” Mr. Traynor said. “Now with the mall gone, new buildings in place, new streets, new businesses settling there, it’s like ‘Welcome to the 21st-century economy.’ ”

One reason that CitySquare is developing so quickly is that Worcester had a lot of practice over the last decade rebuilding its downtown, with considerable help from the city’s colleges and universities.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1865, developed a partnership with the Worcester Business Development Corporation to turn an 11-acre parcel on the edge of its 6,000-student campus into a life sciences teaching, research, laboratory and office complex called Gateway Park.

The university has invested over $110 million in the project to build the $40 million, 125,000-square-foot Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center, which opened in 2007. Next to it is a new $32 million, 92,000-square-foot, four-story bioengineering academic and research building.

Gateway Park, at the intersection of Lincoln Street and Interstate 290, includes a $20 million, 128-room Courtyard by Marriott; an $11 million parking deck; and a $39 million, 89,000-square-foot, 258-bed dormitory that opened in 2013. A $10 million, 100-room Hampton Inn is under construction.

In 2009, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences opened a new campus in downtown Worcester, renovating an office building to fit in classrooms, two auditoriums, laboratories and faculty offices. In 2010, the university acquired the downtown Crowne Plaza Hotel for student housing and for two public vision and dental health clinics.

The pharmacy college’s campus is just down the street from the $180 million Worcester Trial Court, the largest state court building in Massachusetts, which opened in 2007.

Just a few blocks away is the 110-year-old, 2,300-seat Hanover Theater for the Performing Arts, renovated in 2008 at a cost of $32 million, all of it raised in a private, communitywide capital campaign.

According to the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Worcester’s steady redevelopment, fostered by well over $1.3 billion in public and private investment, is producing results that are at the top of urban demographic and economic performance in New England. The city’s population has climbed to more than 182,000 residents, up 13 percent from its modern low of under 162,000 in 1990. Worcester is now the second-largest city in New England.

The jobless rate in October, 5.6 percent, was lower than the state’s unemployment rate of 6 percent. The city added 6,900 new jobs from October 2013 to October 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and average wages during that period increased nearly 5 percent.

Quinsigamond Community College also is involved in the city’s resurgence. In 2014 the two-year college expanded its campus to a building that once was the newsroom and printing plant for The Worcester Telegram & Gazette. The building on Franklin Street, across from City Hall, was renovated at a cost of $40 million. The college’s laboratories and training suites occupy 73,000 square feet of the 135,000-square-foot, four-story building.

In a telling detail that illustrates just how serious college administrators are about their downtown mission, the renovation plan deliberately left out a cafeteria.

“Part of our plan was to put feet on the street,” said Gail E. Carberry, Quinsigamond’s president. “We didn’t get aggressive about cafes and cafeterias. We want students to frequent the restaurants and coffee shops that are already here.”

A generation ago, Worcester’s weary downtown was an impediment to attracting students, college administrators said. Today, shoppers, office workers and students fill the city’s sidewalks.

“We haven’t rushed to rebuild the city,” said Frederick H. Eppinger, the president and chief executive of Hanover Insurance Group. Hanover, based in Worcester, is a publicly traded company, with revenue of $5 billion in 2014; it employs 5,200 people, 2,000 of them in Worcester. “We’ve done it one section of the city at a time so people, particularly our students, can see the change and feel the momentum.”

To read article “Long a College Town, Worcester Now Looks the Part” online at New York Times website, click here