With a town agency’s recent decision to buy the vacant Stoughton Station building, pieces of the puzzle on how to revitalize downtown are starting to fall into place.
The Stoughton Redevelopment Authority voted early last month to buy the former commuter-rail depot from the MBTA, and is negotiating with a developer who hopes to set up a restaurant in the building, which dates to 1888 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The chairman of the redevelopment authority’s board, Michael Barrett, said the agency has the $350,000 needed to complete the purchase, using money generated by the sale of land that became the North Stoughton Industrial Park project and rental fees from the town landfill.
“All the feedback we’ve received during the ongoing master plan process shows residents want the downtown addressed,” Barrett said in a statement, adding that having a thriving business in the former depot would be a major part of the area’s redevelopment.
Recent steps toward downtown’s revival include the opening last summer of the House of Brews on Porter Street, the first significant new restaurant in the area in several years.
A few blocks away, the renovation of the historic State Theatre into a modern performing arts center is proceeding, and recently received a boost from a key town committee.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood’s longstanding traffic woes are in line to be addressed, with the hiring of an engineering consultant expected in the coming weeks.
The anticipated completion of the depot’s sale this month would end a bumpy ride that began two years ago. Negotiations with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority over the price eventually settled at $350,000, and it seemed a deal was in place that would have the town finance the purchase through a $175,000 state grant — as part of last year’s transportation bond bill — and a $175,000 no-interest loan.
But Governor Deval Patrick deleted the grant from the final version of the bond bill, and town officials then asked the Stoughton Redevelopment Authority to get involved. The urban-renewal agency put out a request for proposals in November, when the current developer came forward.
Barrett said he did not want to identify the developer, who is negotiating whether to purchase the building or lease it from the authority, until a deal is signed. He also did not want to describe the restaurant, except to say it would not be part of a chain.
At a public forum on March 24 that was part of the ongoing process to revamp the town’s master plan, residents placed a high priority on infrastructure improvements downtown, including upgrades to parking and traffic, and making the area friendlier to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders.
A study presented last June by the Old Colony Planning Council identified bottlenecks within the Central Street-Harrison Boulevard corridor from Canton Street (Route 27) in Stoughton to Route 28, including the East Spring Street/West Spring Street intersection in Avon. In Stoughton, the area around West School on Central Street near the Pearl Street intersection and the Stoughton District Court also drew attention.
The study will make it easier for the town to apply for state and federal grants to redesign intersections.
Before any of that money became available, Stoughton moved ahead on its own, with Town Meeting last June approving $75,000 to hire a consultant to redesign several Central Street intersections.
Town engineer Marc Tisdelle said his department has been interviewing traffic consultants and expects to select one soon, but the $75,000 would probably be enough to redesign only one intersection or stretch of roadway. The town could then apply to the state for funding to complete the project.
Any improvements, Tisdelle said, will have to be done piecemeal.
“To do all that needs to be done, you’re talking millions and millions of dollars,” he said.
Several million dollars will also be needed to renovate and reopen the State Theatre, and a nonprofit organization working on the project got a boost when the town’s Finance Committee recommended on March 31 that Town Meeting approve an award of $500,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to the group in the form of a matching grant.
The Friends of the State Theatre is hoping to raise $2.5 million to $3 million to renovate the 1,000-seat Washington Street venue, which opened in 1927 but has been dark since December 2007.
The theater group would have to show it has $1.5 million in commitments before the CPA grant would be released, and Town Meeting must approve the proposal by a two-thirds vote.
John Stagnone, head of the friends group, said Town Meeting has reserved the night of May 14 for his presentation on the request for funds. He added that the purchase of the train station is another vote of confidence in the future of the downtown.
“We’re starting to see some momentum,” he said. “There will be big changes coming in under the master plan process, and, hopefully, new traffic patterns in the square.”
Barrett said the expected developer of the former MBTA station also welcomes the effort to restore the State Theatre. “He wants to see other things happening nearby.”
Rich Fahey can be reached at fahey.rich2@ gmail.com.