Worcester Development Official Urges Colleges to Invest in Downtown

WORCESTER — The president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Business Development Corp. today asked the city’s colleges and universities to make an investment in downtown Worcester, saying a thriving central core aids the city’s educational institutions.

Less than a month after closing on a $37 million financing package that will bring 1,500 Quinsigamond Community College students downtown, Craig L. Blais asked the city’s other institutions of higher learning to consider it as a place to do business.

“I’m calling you to action,” Mr. Blais said to an audience of 200 today at the WBDC’s annual meeting at the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts. A robust downtown is a key selling point for colleges and universities recruiting students, he said.

“We need you downtown, we need you desperately downtown. In the past year we came knocking on your door, and some of you, gently, have opened the door,” he said.

Last month the WBDC closed on a deal to turn the former Telegram & Gazette headquarters at 20 Franklin St into a downtown center for college classrooms, a theater and a café.

Quinsigamond Community College expects to occupy about 80,000 square feet of the 110,000 square foot building.

“Come in, the water’s fine,” said QCC president Gail E. Carberry.

Mr. Blais said he is hopeful that Worcester State University might also use some space in the building. The WBDC has also had talks with Clark University and WPI about putting graduate student housing downtown. Becker College last year leased space for 70 students at 76 Franklin St.

“Tell us what you want to bring downtown — what works for you — and we’ll help make it happen,” said Mr. Blais, noting that a 35-acre master plan has been developed for the area.

“We’re here now, he said. “We have a proven track record. We will be here, and we want to work with you,” he said.

The WBDC awarded the Robert S. Bowditch Economic Development Award to former city manager Michael V. O’Brien. In accepting the award, Mr. O’Brien, who stepped down last year after 10 years as city manager, said the job, while all-consuming, was a labor of love. Mr. O’Brien is now an executive vice president for WinnCompanies.

The keynote speaker was Sandra J. Laney, a Spencer native who is now a program officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. She began her career with an associate’s degree from QCC.

“It’s about creating chances for people to capitalize on,” she said. “It’s about creating opportunity.”