WBDC again seeks waiver of delay to raze Hale Building

WORCESTER — The Worcester Business Development Corp. is asking the Historical Commission to reconsider a vote it took denying a request for a waiver to the city’s demolition delay ordinance for the long-vacant Hale Building on the grounds of the former Worcester State Hospital.

The WBDC is making another bid for the waiver so it can proceed to demolish the building, also known as the Nurses’ Home, and facilitate the development of its new 46-acre biomanufacturing park, known as The Reactory, on the old state hospital grounds off Belmont Street.

Since the Historical Commission denied the request for a waiver on April 2, the WBDC reissued its request for proposals for the redevelopment of the Hale building on May 15, with proposals due on June 30, according to Craig L. Blais, its president and chief executive officer.

Blais said of those that received the RFP, the WBDC did not receive any redevelopment proposals.

In addition, since its initial filing, Blais said the WBDC has sold a 6-acre parcel adjacent to the Hale Building parcel to a developer, Galaxy Life Sciences, LLC.

He said Galaxy Life Sciences expects to begin site work on the parcel for a 95,000-square-foot biomanufacturing facility.

Blais said Galaxy has also expressed interest in the Hale Building parcel for another end-user that is seeking to construct a 70,000-square-foot facility that would bring 125-150 new biomanufacturing jobs to Worcester.

“The potential end user is seeking to make a decision on a proposed development,” Blais wrote in a letter to Mark Wambach, chair of the Historical Commission. “given the strict timeline consideration for this project, the WBDC respectfully requests the Worcester Historical Commission reconsider its decision on the delay waiver and waive the remainder of the remaining delay period.

“This reconsideration would allow for demolition to proceed and further provide the developer with the ability to respond to the potential end user, ensuring that the site can fulfill the development requirements,” he added.

The Historical Commission is scheduled to take up the WBDC’s request at its meeting Thursday night.

The Hale Building/Nurses’ Home is a noteworthy part of Worcester’s past, especially since it is one of two remaining structures left from the former Worcester State Hospital campus.

The four-story, 27,000-squre-foot granite stone Hale Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As a result, it is subject to the city’s demolition delay ordinance, which puts an automatic one-year hold on the razing of such structures to allow time to find a suitable reuse.

To avoid the one-year delay, property owners can seek a waiver to the ordinance, which is what the WBDC did in April.

In arguing their case for the waiver, WBDC officials said they had little success the past couple of years trying to drum up any interest among developers for the building. They added they were especially concerned about the impact the one-year delay might have on the development of the biomanufacturing park, given all that has happened with the economy of late.

But members of the Historical Commission were not swayed by the case made by the WBDC, voting 6-0 against the waiver request.

Members voiced strong objections to the waiver request, saying the one-year delay is what is needed to find a viable use for the building, which dates to the early 20th century. They felt the demolition of the building would be detrimental to the historical and architectural resources of the city.

Some also complained that they did not have enough information before them at that time to approve the waiver request.

Blais has previously said the biggest deterrents to redeveloping the Hale Building have been the projected $9 million to $10 million cost just to bring the building’s core and shell up to code.

In an architectural code review of the building, it was found that at least 30% of it would have to be reconstructed to bring it up to code. Major structural issues were also found with the building, including its floors and roof.

On top of that is the projected $50 per square foot cost to renovate the interior of the building for any future use.

As part of its extensive filing for Thursday night’s meeting, the WBDC is claiming an economic hardship.

Based upon the size of the Hale Building, its existing layout and necessary architectural, structural and code upgrades, the WBDC contends the potential renovation or repurposing of the building would be cost prohibitive to utilize or integrate the structure into the overall concept for the proposed biomanufacturing zone.