WBDC’s New Division Expands Mission to Oversee Property

Looking for additional ways to support economic revival in the city, the Worcester Business Development Corp. has launched a new division to manage properties related to its economic development efforts.

The private nonprofit business organization, which sometimes buys properties targeted for redevelopment, has experience managing its locations. However, it has gone a step further and created a division specifically for overseeing the management of properties, including ones that are privately owned.

The WBDC says it will only handle properties tied to its goal of reviving sites in the city through private-public partnerships, while staying away from properties that have no connection to its mission.

“It has to be consistent with what we’re doing,” said Craig Blais, president and chief executive officer of the development organization.

The property management division started Jan. 1 when the organization’s new budget took effect, Mr. Blais said.

“Whether we like it or not, we are in the property management business,” he said. “We have to manage our own properties.”

Founded in 1965, the organization’s mission is to help nurture economic development in the city and surrounding area, creating jobs and expanding the tax base. The WBDC tries to accomplish its goals through investments and partnerships. The new division would not seek to take away business from private management companies, but instead provide additional services for properties tied to redevelopment efforts.

It’s not looking to stray from its goals by managing an office building that might otherwise be run by a for-profit property management company, according to Mr. Blais.

“It’s not to compete with the private sector,” he said. “It is to offer a complete package to the properties (where the organization is involved.)”

After Mr. Blais was promoted to the top position at the WBDC a year ago, he worked on a reorganization plan. He submitted a plan that included the new division to the board of directors last fall, and the board members approved it, he said.

To staff the new division, the WBDC hired two employees and reassigned other workers, he said.

The new division will provide the essential functions of property management, from overseeing security to keeping the properties clean. It could also manage parking for facilities, Mr. Blais said.

The WBDC will charge private property owners it serves a percentage of their leasing revenue, a standard practice in the property management business. Revenue generated from management services will offset the operating costs for the organization, he said.

The WBDC is under contract with building owner Kevin Condron to manage 89 Shrewsbury St., site of the development organization’s offices, as well as VIA Italian Table, a well-known city restaurant.

The WBDC will also manage the former Telegram & Gazette building at 20 Franklin St. in downtown Worcester. In 2011, the WBDC purchased the 135,000-square-foot building from the newspaper. Quinsigamond Community College will be leasing space there and establishing a new health care and workforce development training center.

Mr. Blais described a range of other projects that division could take on, since they would relate to the organization’s main mission. For example, if a business improvement district — a designated area in which businesses pay additional tax or fees to support improvements — is created for the theater district, the division could manage the improvement district, he said.

The city and the WBDC have joined forces to encourage a mixture of residential and commercial uses in the area around The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, and they recently released a master plan for the theater district.

The plan recommended creation of an improvement district or other type of partnership to support entertainment and cultural activities in the district, as well as possible enhancements.

The goal of the master plan was to help create an identity for the district, to spot properties in the district that might offer opportunities for redevelopment, and to determine what infrastructure improvements might be required, according to the plan’s executive summary.

The new property management division could also help manage brownfield projects, Mr. Blais said.

Whatever it does, the organization won’t get involved in properties at random, but instead take care of properties that it owns or has participated in the development in some way, he said.

“It would have to be a project we’re involved in to make sense,” he said.