January 22, 2018
Focus on Economic Development

The 20 most developable sites in Central Mass.

PHOTO/EDD Cote
Jim Umphrey, a principal with the Worcester real estate firm Kelleher & Sadowsky, is the listing agent for the former Mount Carmel church, which has hundreds of feet fronting I-290.
Timothy Murray
David "Duddie" Massad
Roy Nascimento

A long-vacant site in Worcester's Canal District has been in the headlines as a potential site for a new minor league ballpark, and the redevelopment of the old Galleria mall site a few blocks to the north is carrying momentum of a recovering downtown.

These are far from the only sites in Worcester and across Central Massachusetts carrying major opportunities. Even as a lot of attention has been paid to downtowns, it is sites outside the area's densest neighborhoods with the potential for the most change and growth in the area.

These properties – which could host retail, housing, industrial or office complexes, or some mix – are practically hiding in plain sight, simply waiting for the right buyer or builder.

"We need to create more pad-ready sites for commercial and industrial uses, because when we do, we have success," said Timothy Murray, the president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

After interviews with real estate brokers, business and municipal leaders, and property owners, WBJ has compiled a list of the 20 most developable sites in Central Massachusetts, based on their size, zoning, infrastructure, proximity to major highways, and listed price.

A church & a car dealership

On the other side of I-290 from Downtown Worcester, the former Mount Carmel church site on Mulberry Street has more than five acres of developable space with easy highway access and great visibility.

"The accessibility is pretty much unmatched," said Jim Umphrey, a principal at Kelleher & Sadowsky, the Worcester real estate firm marketing the property.

The site has drawn interest for a potential hotel, residential development, or mix of residential and housing, Umphrey said. The property's zoning allows for a mix of uses with a fairly high level of density.

"There's a significant amount of interest in the property," Umphrey said.

Off Lincoln Street, a busy commercial thoroughfare, a 13-acre wooded site is envisioned for 140 apartments and 26 duplex units. Two sites of about seven acres each are available on Park Avenue on the west side of Worcester, including David "Duddie" Massad's property that used to host Diamond Chevrolet.

"We've been undecided on what to do with it," Massad said of the site, where former automotive buildings were demolished this winter. He said he doesn't have much preference for what's built on the site but thinks it carries a high potential.

It's "the No.1 piece of property in the city of Worcester with nothing on it," Massad said.

Big empty spaces outside Worcester

Larger sites outside Worcester are available for new construction, often on high-traffic areas.

In Webster, a nearly 19-acre wooded lot stands available on Route 12 amid a commercial stretch that includes a Kmart, Anytime Fitness and Family Dollar on one side, and a Price Chopper and Panera Bread just down the road on the other side. I-395's Exit 3 is less than a mile away.

The former Sutton drive-in movie theater on Route 146 is available and zoned for use as retail, office or hotel, as one of the available sites off the highway in town.

"There's a lot of potential there for that local pocket of Route 146," said Jeff Borus, an agent at NAI Glickman Kovago & Jacobs, referring to the area around the Pleasant Valley Crossing shopping center.

The site of the former Yankee Drummer Hotel in Auburn was supposed to be a Lowe's hardware store before the company ditched its plans.

"There's nothing else like that that I know of in Central Mass.," said John McKinley, a broker at Kelleher & Sadowsky.

The property is large enough that it appeals most to a smaller group of potential buyers, McKinley said, such as for a big box store, of which there are fewer amid today's retail challenges.

"It's really ideal for anyone who's destination-oriented," he said.

The largest developable site off the Massachusetts Turnpike is a 56-acres site on Route 20 in Auburn, which has direct visibility from the highway. Roughly one-fourth of the site – 14 acres – are wetlands that can't be built upon, but Kelleher and Sadowsky envisions a potential for roughly 200,000 square feet of space.

The Route 2 corridor

In northern Worcester County, Westminster has three of the largest available sites.

An 80-acre parcel behind the former Wachusett Village Inn directly off Route 2 carries the potential for 100,000 square feet of office or retail use, plus residential development allowed by zoning at the rear of the site.

"We've looked at a lot of different users," Bob Cronin, a real estate agent with Colliers International, said of the property.

A few miles to the north, more than 300 acres are available for development just off Route 2A in the Westminster Business Park. The property has the capacity for about 1.5 million square feet of industrial space, part of it with direct rail access, and includes 60 acres zoned for residential use.

A few minutes' drive to the west is the Simplex Drive Industrial District, with another roughly 200 acres available just off Route 2.

Steve Wallace, the Westminster town planner, said he's been working with prospective buyers or tenants to draw them to the right site in town.

"Any time we have a prospective idea, we get together and talk about it," Wallace said. "Anyone who's looking in that area, I'm willing to walk them through the process."

About 15 minutes to the east down Route 2, more than 400 acres north off the highway between exits 35 and 36 has the capacity for 2.8 million square feet of space around the borders of Lancaster, Lunenburg and Shirley. Devens has one site for a building of up to 500,000 square feet, and another that can fit up to 350,000 square feet, with both suited for life science or research and development uses.

With companies squeezed out of locations closer to Boston, growth is spreading westward, said Roy Nascimento, the president and CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.

"This area is well-positioned to see growth coming out of Greater Boston," Nascimento said.

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