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January 23, 2017 EDITORIAL

Adding the steak to Worcester's sizzle

Worcester's restaurants – both the old and the new – have created a palpable buzz, with foodies and chefs from Boston and New York City taking notice. This food renaissance represents not only a big leap forward in branding for city, but it's also helping to spur further economic development with outside investments and an inevitable growth in visitors to the city.

The downtown dining buzz, though, is the start of larger development wave, as restaurateurs are anticipating the increased traffic that will be coming from office and retail development at places like the Mercantile Center, new residential developments like City Square, and from new lodging like the AC Hotel by Marriott and Homewood Suites by Hilton. While the growth in restaurants is an encouraging beginning, it is important that the city and business leaders keep the momentum going by supporting these new projects through their completion and encouraging new and complementary investment in surrounding properties.

This includes delivering real value on the planned $9-million streetscape upgrade along Main Street, and resolving the future of Notre Dame des Canadiens Church, which despite its iconic stature has not attracted sufficient developer interest to restore or reuse the structure. In addition, Discover Central Massachusetts, the group tasked with promoting the region and bringing visitors in to feed the recent new business expansion must have the necessary funding for its operations to fully leverage Worcester's opportunity. With some 400 hotel rooms coming online in the city alone in 2017, visitor promotion can't be operating on a shoestring budget. As long as the dual tax rate causes such a disparity for commercial properties, Worcester must find a way to offer tax incentives for small and midsize businesses to invest. Worcester does not need another mega project – it needs small business people to be confident enough to take the risk and build or restore existing properties.

Doing one of these things well will not be enough, it will take good execution on a number of fronts to set the stage for a period of sustained development. More foot traffic in the city is a must, whether they be students, new residents living downtown, visitors coming to dine, employees coming to work or tourists coming to lodge, Worcester needs to full mix to reach the next level.

Revitalization efforts can be full of fits and starts, as individual projects are subject to the skills of developers and the whims of the economy. In December, the redevelopment of the 246,000-square-foot Worcester County Courthouse, which was due to sell for $1.2 million to a New Hampshire developer, had fallen through. In years past, a development failure like that would dig into the psyche of the city and seem to reinforce that Worcester was a tough place to be a successful investor. The momentum of recent years has made that project's delay feel more like a blip on the radar, and the property is back on the selling block and being marketed by the city. The feeling is more “Ok, who's next?” than “Oh no, not again!”

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