WORCESTER – Using Gateway Park as an example of how to do things right, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Daniel O’Connell yesterday announced the establishment of the state’s Growth Districts Initiative, a program to spur economic growth opportunities at 16 locations around Massachusetts.
The first designated growth district is the 82-acre Innovation Square Growth District, comprising several parcels including the 12-acre Gateway Park and land extending south to Lincoln Square. Speaking at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center on Prescott Street, Mr. O’Connell said the state will partner with municipalities that have identified areas for significant residential, commercial or mixed-use growth by providing fast-track permitting, as well as planning, marketing and infrastructure improvements. He applauded Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Worcester Business Development Corp., the partners developing Gateway Park into a mixed-use center for life sciences and biotech companies as well as housing. .
“It is those partnerships that make things happen,” Mr. O’Connell said. The permitting for Gateway Park is already complete, but the project will benefit from the state’s efforts to market it nationally, said WPI President Dennis D. Berkey.
“The growth district designation highlights all the advantages that are already in place at Gateway Park, like expedited permitting and pad-ready sites,” Mr. Berkey said in an interview. “But it adds fuel to the marketing capability and increases recognition for the opportunities that are here in Worcester for companies that want to come. We are marketing Gateway to a fairly extensive list of prospective tenants,” he said.
Gateway Park is finalizing a relationship with a Boston developer that will provide the capacity to construct additional buildings. He declined to name the developer, saying an announcement will be made in weeks ahead.
Mr. O’Connell said the objective is to create “development readiness” within each growth district comparable to that now available at Devens. Communities seeking growth district designation should be committed to planning for development in the district for between five and 20 years. The remaining growth districts will be announced in the future, he said.
Some 4,400 acres at the former Fort Devens military base off Route 2 is being converted into an industrial center under the control of the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency. Undersecretary for Business Development Gregory P. Bialecki said too often land use planning is done poorly, if at all. While Devens has been a success, it should not be up to the state to take control from local communities. He said Gateway Park has a rich cluster of science and technology, with the forethought to include housing.
“What I like about this plan is that it is a big vision,” he said following the official program. “It is also a very manageable and practical vision. It’s not a three-year plan. It’s probably a 10-year plan or more. That’s the right thing to do. It’s not one building, and that’s the approach we want to see.
“It’s a local, well-kept secret. It deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Devens. It’s that ready for development. But it isn’t getting mentioned or getting attention, so that’s the big thing we can do.”
Among the sites that could be developed in the Innovation Square Growth District are: – The 130-room Courtyard by Marriott at 72 Grove St., with the potential for a 30-room expansion.
– The Worcester Memorial Auditorium in Lincoln Square, with approximately 100,000 square feet of potential cultural, office or research and development space. – The former Boys Club in Lincoln Square, with 48,000 square feet of potential mixed-use space
The former Worcester County Courthouse on Main Street, with approximately 200,000 square feet of potential mixed-use space. Growth districts will be chosen by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, in collaboration with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Areas for consideration must be identified by the city or town as a priority for growth, and there must be market demand to support that growth.
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