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Updated: March 18, 2024 Editorial

Editorial: Preserve the Canal District magic

The Canal District was developing momentum for more than decade before the Polar Park baseball stadium was dreamed up, but the $160-million public project has certainly supercharged economic interest in the trendy Worcester neighborhood.

In the three years since Polar Park opened in 2021, the value of all the surrounding properties in the Canal District has increased 83%, compared to a citywide increase of 41%, according to a data analysis WBJ Staff Writer Eric Casey performed for the first story his two-part package Canal District Transformation. Beyond just an increase in values, the Canal District has seen renewed interest from the real estate community as the number of property sales increased 72% and the combined value of those property sales increased 183% since the Pawtucket Red Sox announced in August 2018 their intention to move to Worcester.

While it’s hard to argue against Polar Park’s economic impact on the neighborhood, the Worcester Red Sox will be the first to admit the Canal District was already trending upward as a funky urban center before they decided to move. That vibe, which attracted the WooSox and the ongoing economic investment, was created by an eclectic mix of small-business entrepreneurs who founded retail shops, restaurants, bars, and experiences in the last 10-15 years. Those businesses, combined with old mainstays like The White Eagle bar and the Kelley Square Yacht Club, mesh together to produce the environment all this new money is trying to get a piece of.

This magic must be preserved. Real estate projects are adding more value into the Canal District, but these new multifamily developments are dangerously close to the generic cookie-cutter sameness seen in most new construction, mixed in with a neighborhood known for its unique, historical style. Worcester should heed the warnings from Harvard Square in Cambridge decades ago. That district was once the cool, trendy place to be, but it became so cool and in demand, eventually only corporate retailers and restaurants could afford the rising real estate prices. It would be tragic for the Canal District to lose the likes of Crompton Collective and BirchTree Bread Co. to Pottery Barn and Starbucks.

Real estate prices can’t rise so high that new Canal District entrepreneurs can’t start up the next Crompton or BirchTree. For this to happen, developers of new commercial projects – who are facing rising costs themselves – can’t price their retail spaces to the point where only corporations can afford the rent. Similarly, existing commercial property owners need to recognize the value of the Canal District is in its eclectic vibe and shouldn’t swap out an up-and-coming business in favor of a chain who can maybe pay a little bit more. Understanding how the Canal District got to this point in its success is important to preserving its future.

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Carolyn Somma
March 28, 2024

I love the build up and excitement in this whole area, but find myself singing Pete Seegers "Little Boxes" when I drive through. If only these new apartments had architectural variety. How did past residents pay for beautiful architecture?

March 20, 2024

Agreed, but will no one mention parking? It's more than difficult to have a leisurely meal or enjoy entertainment (much less perform it) when the city's nutso parking regulations require you to move your car every two hours. This is particularly true of the Green Island area, but it's also true now of the Highland Street commercial area and many other places in town where there are exciting stores and restaurants. If you want to help small business areas thrive, make them accessible to the public.

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