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March 20, 2017 EDITORIAL

Editorial: Striking while the iron is hot

At noon on March 10, the principals behind Onsite Builders & Development of Westwood came into WBJ's offices ready to detail the $35-million proposal they had just laid on Worcester city officials to remake the old Worcester County Courthouse.

Onsite was one of four developers to express an interest in taking over the aborted effort to revitalize the old downtown courthouse, after a New Hampshire developer pulled out of the deal in December. While the previous plan the city had entered called for the development of some 115 apartments, Onsite's rendering showed a plan for a much more ambitious redevelopment of the 4.3-acre site, calling for up to 300 market-rate apartments along with office and retail space. In addition, they have received assurances that financing is in place for their $35-million plan, another sign of strong investor confidence in Worcester's economy and real estate market.

Just a few years ago, such a scene would have been impossible; four developers vying for a previously moribund piece of Worcester history. So much for Worcester's long-held reputation as a tough place to invest. Today, the winner of the courthouse sweepstakes will simply join the chorus of people remaking downtown at the Mercantile Center, CitySquare, the city's hotel and sports scenes, and in small pockets throughout the central city. After a decade of largely public projects meant to catalyze private development, the city's ship is coming in.

When one of the courthouse proposals in Lincoln Square eventually gets selected, you can more tangibly see the pieces of the Worcester redevelopment puzzle coming more closely together. The developer of the Mercantile Center – Worcester's tallest property – is close to lining up a retail anchor for the ground floor of his 640,000-square-foot mixed-use complex. The Worcester Ice Center is adding a new layer of activity to the already booming Canal District, thanks to the efforts at Crompton Place and small investments on surrounding streets. The courthouse development promises to add to the momentum in Lincoln Square, where the historic auditorium stands ready for renewal, and the Worcester Technical High School site could be further developed. Maybe, just maybe, that momentum will be strong enough for the city to take a hard look at the Soviet-style police headquarters and consider reinventing or finding a new, more modern headquarters for the police department.

Much work remains, but today's momentum in Worcester is real, and it bodes well for the entire region. We all know the cost of living, especially housing, in Greater Boston is punishingly high. A hip, urban scene in Worcester, filled with an increasing number of residential units, can be a really attractive alternative.

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