WORCESTER – The Historical Commission has agreed to waive the remainder of the 12-month demolition delay period for the long-vacant Hale Building on the former campus of Worcester State Hospital.
The commission voted 5-1 Thursday night to waive the remaining time after concluding there is no reasonable likelihood that either the owner or some other person or group is willing to purchase, preserve, restore or rehabilitate the historic building, also known as the Nurses’ Home.
The action paves the way for the demolition of the building before the delay was set to expire on March 10, 2021.
Because the Hale Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 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.
But the Historical Commission denied a request made by the Worcester Business Development Corp. for a waiver to the ordinance, contending that the demolition of the four-story, 27,000-squre-foot granite building would be detrimental to the historical and architectural resources of the city. It asked the WBDC to make more efforts to see if the building could be saved and incorporated as part of its new 46-acre biomanufacturing park, known as The Reactory, off Belmont Street.
Last month, the WBDC asked the Historical Commission to reconsider the delay after it issued a new request for proposals for the redevelopment of the Hale Building in May, but did not receive any redevelopment proposals out of it.
Stephen Rolle, an assistant chief development officer, said the commission’s decision to waive the remainder of the demolition delay period does not change its earlier decision.
Rather, he said, there is a provision in the demolition delay ordinance that allows the Historical Commission to waive the remainder of the delay period when it is satisfied that there is no likelihood that a building can be preserved, rehabilitated or preserved.
By waiving the remainder of the delay period, Rolle said the WBDC would be able to pursue the demolition of the building in a more timely manner.
WBDC president Craig L. Blais said the WBDC has sold a 6-acre parcel adjacent to the Hale Building parcel to a developer, Galaxy Life Sciences.
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.
Michael C. O’Brien, chief executive officer of Galaxy Life Sciences, told the Historical Commission that his company did take a look at the Hale Building “with good intentions.”
But he said the building was found to not to be very adaptable for reuse for biomanufacturing purposes because it is narrow, long and has low ceilings.
O’Brien said Galaxy agreed with the WBDC’s earlier assessment that it was not economically feasible to save and restore the building.
He said his company is in discussions with a potential “West Coast tenant” that needs to occupy 80,000 square feet of space and they want to occupy that space by the end of next year.
He said the building eyed for the parcel the Hale Building is on would have a 40,000 square foot footprint and be two stories in height.
“Timing is critical; they will not wait,” O’Brien said in reference to the one-year demolition delay.
Commission members said they appreciated the efforts made by the WBDC to seek out interest to save the building. But they acknowledged that the building appears destined to come down at some point.
“It’s a beautiful building,” said Commissioner Diane Long. “I hate to lose it. But I think it’s clear that it’s coming down in March or April of next year no matter what we decide on here tonight.”
Commissioner Randolph Bloom said he, too, found the decision to be a very difficult one. But he said the reality of the situation is there is very little chance that the building can be saved and restored
Commissioners asked is some architectural elements of the Hale Building could be saved and repurposed as part of the future development of The Reactory.
Blais said the WBDC, through is subsidiary New Garden Inc., will be responsible for razing the building and preparing the site for development.
He said the biggest deterrent to redeveloping the Hale Building was 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 claimed 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.