Pulling Together; Public-Private Partnerships Take Center Stage

The downtown revitalization initiative being formulated by the city administration has received a noteworthy private-sector boost.

At its annual meeting yesterday, the nonprofit Worcester Business Development Corp. announced a slight “recalibration” of its strategic plan, making its No. 1 goal “to focus its skills and resources on improving the economic and business climate of downtown Worcester.”

Since its reconfiguration in 1999, WBDC’s special talent has been brokering public-private partnerships. The recently opened Hanover Theatre was the product of just such a partnership, leveraging private donations, support from the academic and business communities and city, state and federal aid.

Also brokered by WBDC is the partnership with WPI, using brownfields cleanup funds and other public support, that yielded the new Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park. WBDC honored WPI president Dennis D. Berkey as recipient of its Bowditch Award yesterday in recognition of his role in the highly complex project.

Worcester has been a pioneer in forging such partnerships. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Park and Gardner-Kilby-Hammond Main South renewal both used creative public-private partnerships to stellar effect.

The potential has not been lost on state officials. Getting state and municipal governments and the business community working together is an important element of the Patrick administration development policy, Daniel O’Connell, secretary of Housing and Economic Development, told the WBDC meeting. Indeed, Gateway Park, which epitomizes that philosophy, is the first of the “growth districts” to be designated by the administration statewide.

As City Manager Michael V. O’Brien indicated yesterday, the city’s new downtown strategy will focus on improving key properties to strengthen links with other neighborhoods.

That targeted approach is worth pursuing vigorously. From Washington Square to Wheaton Square, there are opportunities in abundance for the kind of creative partnerships WBDC and the city both have nurtured.