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Worcester is quickly growing - passing the 200,000 mark in the 2020 Census - and developers are trying to build housing fast enough to keep up.
But rising costs on everything from construction loans to building materials are slowing some projects and delaying the start of others.
A statewide housing shortage has become so prominent that the governor created the new Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, headed by former Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus.
Just a few years ago, the outlook seemed rosy. With the fast population growth in Worcester, low lending rates and a developer-friendly city government, developers came flocking to Worcester. Among those developers were large national firms like the New Jersey-based Michaels Organization and Wood Partners of Atlanta with the power and deep pockets to build hundreds of apartments in one shot.
The sprawling City of Worcester had plenty of land to offer, former factory land that once served companies like Wyman Gordon and Table Talk Pies, the location of a former church declared structurally unsound, and a group of abandoned buildings steps away from the rapidly changing Canal District.
Dozens of projects proposing thousands of new apartments have been approved by the Worcester Planning Board, allowing the public to see slick renderings of buildings by architectural firms like ICON Architecture of Boston, Chelsea’s The Architectural Team, and Maugel DeStefano Architects of Harvard.
Developers must now bring these renderings to life in a time when interest rates, construction, and labor costs are all rising.
While several projects have been progressing and some are near opening, not every proposed project will be built, and some may be smaller than originally proposed. Several projects have re-appeared before the Worcester Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals to request an extension on prior approvals.
Several residential projects are under construction with some preparing to begin leasing apartments.
Steps from Polar Park, home of the Worcester Red Sox, The Revington, a seven-story 228-apartment mixed use building, is getting its final touches as it prepares to open this fall. The project was built by Madison Properties of Boston, and is being managed by Gables Residential of Atlanta. It features a mix of studio to three-bedroom apartments starting at $1,993, according to the Gables’ website. The project includes several ground-level commercial spaces for restaurants and retail.
Madison Properties broke ground at the site in 2021. It is part of a multi-phase development of land formerly owned by manufacturer Wyman Gordon. The larger development has shrunk since its original conception, but is expected to still include a hotel and an additional residential building as well as a commercial building aimed at the life sciences industry behind left field at Polar Park.
Across the street from The Revington is the Table Talk Lofts, a seven-story workforce housing development which will have 83 affordable apartments. The project, being built by Boston Capital Development, received help in the form of a $19 million bond arranged by MassDevelopment, $7.1 million in permanent loans from Massachusetts Housing Partnership, money from MassDevelopment’s Underutilized Properties Program, and Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
While Boston Capital has not announced an anticipated completion date for the project, the building’s structure is up and work on the facade is continuing.
On the other side of Polar Park, The Cove, a seven-story, 173-apartment building has begun framing work on its wooden levels. It was originally proposed in May 2021 as a 13-story 300-apartment project and was approved by the city in February 2022 in its scaled-down form.
The project includes 16,000 square feet of retail space which will house a bar and bowling alley concept. It will also have two patios which overlook Polar Park.
John Tocco, managing partner and COO of V10 Development in Everett, the project's developer, said that he expects construction to be completed by Aug. 1.
Tocco gives credit to the company’s financing partners for getting the project started.
“We had a cooperative team of lenders, led by Enterprise Bank, who shared our excitement for the project and worked hard with our team to get the deal done,” said Tocco in an email to WBJ. “In terms of equity commitments, we were fortunate to have planned this project as an opportunity zone investment which means that the capital is committed for a much longer term therefore helps investors look beyond short- term market turbulence.”
While these projects get a lot of attention because they are surrounding Polar Park and are new additions to the skyline, on the other side of Main Street, an adaptive reuse project is about to begin leasing on the first phase of a 165-unit development off of Main Street.
The Sudbury Street Lofts, being built by Rossi Development of Newton, is located at 13 Sudbury St. in a five-story former school building which was renovated in 1988 for office space.
Andrea Castinetti of the Castinetti Realty Group in Shrewsbury said in an email to WBJ that the project is on track to have occupancy within the next few weeks.
Rossi has other irons in the fire, having received approval for a 43-unit redevelopment of a Table Talk Pie building on Green Street, and proposing a 251-unit mixed-use building on Harvard Street near the Sudbury Street Lofts.
Pre-leasing has begun for Alta on the Row, a 370-unit residential complex on the former site of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church near Shrewsbury Street. Atlanta Developer Wood Partners proposed the project in spring 2021.
Several projects that have been proposed are in the early stages of development, but are moving forward.
SMC Management Corp. of Watertown has started construction on the Poet Hill Residences, a 216-apartment complex on Hemans Street in Worcester. The project was proposed in 2021 and the developer expects occupancy in 2025, according to Michael Barrett, the firm’s director of investor relations.
SMC is finalizing architectural plans for another Worcester development - its 110-unit Residences on Madison at 5 Madison St. Barrett says that construction bidding will open for the project soon and that he anticipates construction to begin in April.
Two 55-and-over apartment projects have recently made moves indicating that the developments are moving forward.
WinnDevelopment of Boston announced on Nov. 2 that it would proceed with its redevelopment of the former Boys Club property at Lincoln Square in Downtown Worcester into 80 affordable apartments for residents 55 and older.
The project was originally approved by the city in 2021. The $53 million project will receive city, state, and federal money.
WinnDevelopment has its eyes on another property in Downtown Worcester. In June, the company announced that it intends to purchase the Slater Building at 390 Main St. and renovate it into mixed-income apartments and 30,000 square feet of commercial space.
On the city’s West Side, the Arbella at Bramble Hill, a 122-unit senior living project, appears to be moving forward after its developer, The United Group of Companies in Troy, New York, secured a $53 million construction loan from the Washington Trust Company of Westerly, Rhode Island.
Other projects have been delayed by macroeconomic conditions.
Another senior living community was proposed by Goddard and Hall Senior Living, Inc. of Worcester at the site of the former Saint Peter-Marian High School on Grove Street in Worcester. It received approvals from the city for its three-story, 170-unit senior living complex in 2022.
In July, the company requested an extension on its approvals until summer 2024. According to a letter from Mark Borenstein, a partner at Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey on behalf of Goddard and Hall, the company hopes to commence construction in early 2024.
“Goddard has been forced to delay commencement of work associated with the project due to challenges with respect to access to financing and capital related to the rise of inflation and interest rates, instability of the banking system, and an overall slowdown in the commercial real estate market,” Borenstein said in a letter to the Worcester Planning Board.
Auburn-based developer Lundgren Equity Partners has faced similar challenges with its seven-story 218-unit residential building it proposed at 225 Shrewsbury St. The project was originally approved in October 2022, but the company has requested an extension of its site plan approval until October 2025.
Bowditch and Dewey partner Joshua Lee Smith used similar language to Borenstein on behalf of Lundgren in a letter to the planning board, describing the challenges the developer is facing in terms of inflation and a slowing market.
Plans were approved in October for an additional development by Lundgren across Shrewsbury Street from 225 Shrewsbury. That project will feature 87 apartments as well as retail space.
Another high profile project which was granted an extension of approvals is the nine-story, 105-apartment project proposed for the former Fairway Beef site at 102 Temple St. The project was proposed by AKROS Development of Boston. Demolition of the historic meat market building has not been completed.
One project that did not survive the changing economic conditions was Silverbrick’s proposed redevelopment of an office building at 340 Main St. into SilverBrick SkyHouse, a 312-unit apartment building. It bought the site in 2020. In September, 2022, the Worcester Executive Office of Economic Development told the City Council that due to the rising costs of materials and construction, the project has been put on hold.
There are several other large projects proposed that haven’t begun construction in the city.
Franklin Lofts, a 364-apartment project being developed by the Michaels Organization with Worcester firm GoVenture Capital Group, is navigating the complex process of tearing down multiple vacant industrial buildings and the accompanying infrastructure additions.
The next two years will be telling as to how much of the proposed residential development in Worcester will be realized. Though the city has cleared the path for developers, macroeconomic forces are putting their resourcefulness to the test. All eyes are on the construction sites as the city tries to address its housing shortage.