Main Street – Keeping focus on Worcester’s Downtown

In 1935, Nobel Prize-winning American novelist Sinclair Lewis had one of his characters describe Worcester as “…just the same as Boston, London, Hollywood, and a Wild West Ranch put together.”

That was surely a bit much, even if one thinks back to the heady days when downtown pulsated with pedestrians and professionals, budget crises were unknown, and concepts such as urban blight — and urban renewal — lay decades in the future.

But Worcester is a city with a remarkable heritage. Blessed by geography, well served by roads and rails, strengthened by ethnic diversity, and endlessly resilient, Worcester has continually reinvented itself, from farming village to industrial powerhouse, to academic giant and a rising medical and biomedical star.

Last Thursday’s announcement of a partnership between the city and the Worcester Business Development Corporation to focus on properties in the downtown core, and in particular to seek ways to complement the signature efforts of the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, is a huge step toward realizing that brighter future.

Indeed, if the Heart of the Commonwealth is to remain worthy of that title, its downtown core must continue to beat with a healthy mix of civic institutions, cultural attractions, private businesses, academic institutions, and urban green spaces.

Downtown has not always had an easy time of it in recent years, seemingly caught between nostalgia for a past that can never return and a future that is difficult to realize in the face of a tough economy and limited resources. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the resiliency and commitment of those players who do populate downtown.

WBDC has repeatedly proved it knows the business of development, and has what it takes to put together private and public funds to make great ideas a reality. Those efforts, as exemplified at WPI’s Gateway Park, translate into real jobs and real economic growth for everyone.

The “Theatre District” partnership will center on an area roughly bounded by McGrath Boulevard and Myrtle, High, Main and Mechanic streets, including the Worcester Public Library, the Mayo Group’s housing redevelopment work, the YWCA, and a number of commercial properties, including the Telegram & Gazette. The newspaper has had discussions with WBDC.

While it is far too soon to lay out specific projects and plans, it is safe to say that the public and private sectors alike agree that Worcester will not retreat from its mission of making its downtown a more attractive, liveable and economically viable place. Good things can, do, and will happen here.

Without question, few if any of the tasks ahead will be simple. But Worcester’s residents and businesses have never lived on some fictional Easy Street.

They live and work on Main Street, a very real place, in a very real city they are proud to call home.