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Updated: September 18, 2023 Editorial

Editorial: Fitchburg’s economic momentum is picking up steam

The City of Fitchburg and key community players like Fitchburg State University have been talking about revitalizing downtown for years. Plans included redeveloping the Theater Block, partnering with the Fitchburg Art Museum to bring more cultural vitality to the area, building artist-oriented housing, and re-opening Fitchburg City Hall, whose dilapidated condition forced it to be deemed unsafe for use in 2012. Like so many other communities with revitalization plans centered around downtown, it was an open question whether any of this talk and planning would become reality.

Fast forward to 2023, and it appears the pieces are coming together for Fitchburg’s downtown reinvention. The $24-million renovation of Fitchburg City Hall was completed in 2021, creating a gorgeously modern office setting inside an historic building. While some voters might scoff at spending eight figures on government offices – especially in a Gateway City like Fitchburg – the modern City Hall sends a clear message to any business or individual thinking about investing in the North Central community: Fitchburg is indeed on the rise.

FSU has slowly been chipping away at the Theater Block development, using its own funds and getting outside support, such as $3 million from the state in 2022 to prepare the theater to reopen. Short of the theater’s restoration, the block is already becoming a center for learning and entrepreneurialism, as FSU has opened the IdeaLab in the space and has a new game design studio, where students create video games and prepare to enter the exciting technology field.

And – of course – no neighborhood revitalization would be complete without the influx of exciting places to eat, so it’s good to see locally owned eateries offering good food to attract outsiders. The Pauper’s Pantry, which features twists on comfort food, and Mamajuana Restaurant, offering Latin American food, opened on Main Street this summer. Those came after Dario’s Ristorante and Rise & Grind Cafe opened in the spring.

Amid all this flurry, the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce – a key driver of the business community – was named national Chamber of the Year by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, the first chamber in New England to win the honor. On top of advocating for businesses and bringing people together, the chamber has been a key small business lender through its North Central Massachusetts Development Corp., which provides favorable loans to businesses struggling to get financing.

Fitchburg, the third largest city in Worcester County with a population of 41,500, is helped by having relatively low housing prices. Year-to-date, the median sales price for a single-family home is $350,000, compared to $565,000 statewide, $436,750 in neighboring Leominster, and $383,250 in Worcester, according to the Warren Group. And since Route 2 provides a direct artery from Fitchburg into Boston, Fitchburg is positioned as an affordable urban alternative to those fleeing skyrocketing prices, especially in Eastern Massachusetts.

Fitchburg still has boxes to check off on its redevelopment plans, but it’s worth noting all that has been accomplished, along with the promise of future growth.

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