Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: October 2, 2023 Editorial

Editorial: Ensure the golden goose keeps laying eggs

Not that long ago, Worcester felt like a development desert. Coming out of the Great Recession and into the early 2010s, proposals for new multi-family and commercial developments were few and far between, to the point when the 368-unit 145 Front at City Square opened downtown in 2018, it was seen as both a risky endeavor and cause for celebration.

Over the last few decades, City of Worcester officials and local business leaders tended to take a whatever-you-need approach to any major business or developer considering investing in Worcester. That long-held approach has started to turn over the last half dozen years, as more developers began to take notice of Worcester, real estate prices began to finally rise, and demand for housing increased, fueled in no small part by people seeking refuge from the exorbitant prices in Greater Boston. But old habits die hard. WBJ has editorialized several times about Worcester’s much improved hand that City officials bring to the bargaining table, encouraging negotiators to be a little stingier with large-scale development incentives: tax breaks, waived permit fees, and lease agreements. An improved hand at the table should be translating to more net tax revenues, which benefit all of the city’s businesses and residents.

The City of Worcester has now begun to take that more assertive stance with developers, as WBJ Staff Writer Timothy Doyle explores in his “Enforcing the win-win” story. The City Council has decertified a property tax break for Tennessee-based insurer Unum after the company was far out of compliance with the hiring requirements in its deal. Worcester has added an inclusionary zoning affordable housing requirement on all new developments above a certain size; and the council is considering stricter penalties for development projects not meeting their diversity hiring goals. These are all smart moves by the City and are unlikely to have any significant impact on developers’ desire to build in Worcester, despite some wringing of hands.

Our concern, though, is maintaining that proper balance. During the 2021 Worcester local election, a new wave of progressive candidates won seats on the council, which helped lead to some of the more assertive stances toward development. For inclusionary zoning, four of the 11 city councilors pushed for a stricter affordable housing standard, which would have limited units to a smaller subset of people. The upcoming city election in November has the possibility to sweep even more progressive members onto the city council. It’s not hard to envision a future where too many burdens could be placed at the feet of businesses and developers, thus killing the golden goose that has attracted so much outside investment here.

Worcester has experienced some real sustained momentum, but for the right kind of development to happen, the negotiators will have to stay nimble. We need to encourage fair deals where continued investment in the right kind of development is encouraged.

Sign up for Enews

WBJ Web Partners


Order a PDF