When Mike Jacobs, principal at Worcester real estate firm Glickman Kovago & Co., talks to retailers about the opportunities to be found at CitySquare, he said there's a common response.
“Whenever you can actually walk down the road and actually touch the storefront, then give me a call,” he said.
Now, that day is just about here. The new Mercantile Street, which will be home to about 100,000 square feet of street-level retail space, is emerging from the wreckage of the old Galleria mall, and Jacobs said three different national retailers recently visited the site.
As the first two big core buildings rise in the middle of the downtown project, city boosters say other businesses aren't far behind, with potential for stores of all sizes, a hotel and residential development.
In a recent briefing on the project, Donald Birch, chief operating officer of Boston-based Leggat McCall Properties, which is handling new development at the site, said the new Unum building is scheduled to be finished by October, and the Saint Vincent Cancer Center should be complete next spring.
Leggat, as manager of CitySquare II, the development entity financed by Hanover Insurance, is working on the major new buildings at the site. Meanwhile, Glickman is marketing retail space owned by Berkeley Investments under the name Front+Center.
Jacobs said there's interest in the area from restaurants and shops, and there's also the possibility of a movie theater moving in. One relatively large space, known as Building E, in the center of the former Worcester Common Outlets mall and next door to Notre Dame des Canadiens church, could house a grocery store or entertainment venue.
“It's a true urban development,” Jacobs said, something that's hard to find outside Metro Boston. “I think that's intriguing to a lot of the retailers.”
He said the foot traffic and urban feel of a downtown location are major assets for a few brands. On the other hand, some big-name retailers don't want to deviate from their standard layouts to fit their stores into predefined city-center lots. On balance, though, a good number are willing to explore the space.
He said another aspect of the interest in CitySquare is that there aren't a lot of shopping areas in Worcester to compete with.
Richard Kennedy, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said activity downtown seems to be building on itself. He said there's good reason to think a hotel may want to open at CitySquare.
“With the DCU Center being so active, it's pretty obvious that we could use some additional rooms that are in close proximity,” he said.
Kennedy said the closing of the Crowne Plaza Hotel downtown two years ago doesn't mean there's any lack of demand for hotel rooms today, especially as the economy improves and entertainment options in Worcester strengthen.
From his office across Main Street from City Hall, Kennedy said, he can see the area where Front Street will connect with the newly developed parcels, Foster Street and Washington Square.
“I think it's going to be a real symbolic change,” he said. “I think that change, when people see it, will be demonstrative of the change that's happening really quickly downtown.”
How quickly? Jacobs expects to be negotiating with retailers over downtown storefronts within three to six months. He said a building near the Unum and Saint Vincent locations has received particularly strong interest from both retail and institutional potential buyers.
“That'll probably be the first thing delivered from the Front+Center side of the street,” he said.
That could be by the end of the year, he said, and other things will probably keep moving after that.
“I think eventually the retail is going to fill in over the next year to 18 months,” he said. n
Worcester Business Journal staff writer Rick Saia contributed to this report.