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High expectations: 2019 will be the year the Worcester downtown and ballpark projects begin to prove themselves

BY Grant Welker

12/24/2018
Worcester officials have high hopes for the minor league Red Sox stadium development, hoping to create a new anchor in the Canal District.

In redevelopment of the former Galleria mall site in Worcester, 2018 was the year in which the property was essentially completed with new uses.

It's the year when the 145 Front at City Square apartments opened and the AC Hotel welcomed its first guests. A 110 Grill opened at the hotel, and the Brew Garden opened a block or so away at the Grid District development. A few holes remain, including two delayed planned restaurants and a comedy club at the Grid District, and a Fuel America cafe in the Mercantile Center.

But what's the next step in downtown development? There's the Central Building at 332 Main St., which is being renovated into 55 mixed-income residential units with the help of a $3.7-million permanent loan and $1.4 million in workforce housing funding from MassHousing. There's the delayed courthouse renovation in Lincoln Square, where a $53-million project is slated to include 114 apartment units and retail space.

For city officials looking to keep momentum going in remaking Worcester's downtown, it may come from development of other buildings, such as 517 Main St., the MetroPCS building that was bought by Grid District developer MG2, or any of a few buildings bought this year by the Menkiti Group, including 526-538 Main St., 405 Main St. or 204 Main St. Plans haven't been released on any of those sites.

The Pawtucket Red Sox will begin play in Worcester in April 2021 – at least if the team and the city, which will build the park, can stay on track.
Many eyes in Worcester and beyond will be on this project to see how the proposed 10,000-seat ballpark and a related mixed-use development pans out. A construction start has been expected for July 2019.
That means the city will have to reach agreement with landowners, close on a sale, remove tenants and knock those buildings down in roughly seven months. Businesses currently in the way of the park include MedStar Ambulance and Autobody Supplies and Paint.
Looking beyond 2019, the mixed-use development will have to prove the exception to the rule nationally, where minor-league ballparks amid denser neighborhood development often don't meet developers' or officials' expectations at the outset. The project will have to draw hundreds of residents to live in the Canal District and for many restaurants, retailers and offices to find their way there as well.

Devens isn't likely to reach capacity in 2019, but the former military base is getting there.

The community, with more than 5,000 workers, nearly 6 million square feet of space and 400 residents, can tout some major expansions recently, including a new 355,000-square-foot fulfillment center for the retail shipping company Quiet Logistics and an expansion plan from hydroponic leafy green grower Little Leaf Farms calling for a total of 10 acres of greenhouse space.

For companies that can't find the space or the zoning they need just off the Massachusetts Turnpike, I-495 or other easy access, Devens has become a hot place to look in the two decades since its transformation from a military base to a commercial and industrial cluster run by the state agency MassDevelopment.

A few key parcels are left, including a 46-acre site fitting up to half a million square feet of space, a 35-acre site accommodating a 350,000 square-foot building, and a 22-acre site fitting 350,000 square feet.