Worcester’s downtown withered when city officials staked the neighborhood’s future on a silver bullet development that missed its mark badly. Now the city is redeveloping downtown, albeit at a pace that seems impossibly slow. But impatience misses two key points. The massive effort is advancing, even in the face of a weak real-estate market, and it’s advancing in the right direction. Worcester, once bedeviled by gimmicky real estate developments, is sticking to its plan and refusing to take shortcuts. Given the downtown neighborhood’s history, that’s the most important development of all.
When developers broke ground on Worcester’s CitySquare project three years ago, the development was the largest post-urban renewal downtown redevelopment effort in Massachusetts history. The 20-acre, $565 million project involves demolishing a massive failed downtown mall, laying out a new street network, and constructing millions of square feet of offices, retail storefronts, and residential space. Worcester is trying to move beyond its failed downtown mall by creating something that is, in both physical form and philosophy, the antithesis of an urban shopping mall.