By Nick Kotsopoulos
Telegram & Gazette Staff
WORCESTER – The head of CENTRO has resurrected the idea of expanding the Downtown Urban Revitalization Plan to include a portion of Main South.
Juan A. Gomez, president and CEO of CENTRO, suggested to the Worcester Redevelopment Authority board last week that the district include the Main Street corridor as far south as Hammond Street, and the area between Main, Madison, Southbridge and Hammond streets.
He said that part of the city would greatly benefit by being part of the urban revitalization plan because it would open doors for greater investment there.
Mr. Gomez said that area has the “biggest concentration of poverty” in the city and has suffered from “disinvestment and stagnation.”
The downtown urban revitalization area currently runs as far south along Main Street as Austin and Myrtle streets, about a block away from Chandler and Madison streets, before heading down Southbridge Street to Lafayette Street.
Mr. Gomez made his pitch to expand the revitalization plan district at Friday’s meeting of WRA board, which developed the plan a couple of years ago.
He said CENTRO, the largest minority-led, community-based multicultural organization in Central Massachusetts, is looking to relocate into larger quarters in Main South, having outgrown its main office at 11 Sycamore St.
When CENTRO opened its doors there in 1977, it had 23 employees and an annual budget of $1.1 million; today, the agency has more than 80 employees and a budget of more than $8.5 million, he said.
Because of the population it serves and its history in Main South, Mr. Gomez said, CENTRO wants to remain in that neighborhood.
CENTRO had looked into moving to 701 Main St., the former People in Peril shelter, but for various reasons it did not work out.
Mr. Gomez said keeping CENTRO in Main South would provide an important second institutional anchor there, along with the YMCA.
He said there are three or four major real estate holdings on the market in the Main South area, adding that it could be a detriment to that area if they end up in the hands of absentee landlords.
Mr. Gomez emphasized he is not looking to overburden the city or the WRA with his request, nor does he want to delay any movement on the urban revitalization plan.
He said he was resurrecting the expansion idea after it was reported that the WRA was considering expanding the plan’s boundary near the vacant Wyman-Gordon property off Madison Street.
He said he wants to bring attention to “a special segment of the city.”
WRA board chairman Vincent A. Pedone said the Downtown Urban Revitalization Plan is not a “stagnant plan” or one that is never going to be changed. He said it’s a “living, breathing document” that is going to be changed as the city needs it to be changed.
He pointed out, however, that the expansion of the plan area near the Wyman-Gordon property would be very limited and involve only a handful of properties.
In comparison, Mr. Pedone said, what Mr. Gomez is suggesting would effectively double the size of the plan area and require a significant expenditure to inventory and assess all the properties.
He said the WRA operates with limited funds and does not have the money to take on what is needed for an expansion of that scope. About $350,000 was spent to have the Downtown Urban Revitalization Plan done.
“This would essentially create a new urban revitalization plan,” Mr. Pedone said. “The process would essentially have to begin all over again, and it would be a long process.”
Mr. Pedone said such an investment to have that done could only come from the city, and he encourage Mr. Gomez to initiate conversations with the City Council Economic Development Committee.
He said the WRA wants to work with the City Council and city administration on economic development matters, but added that any talk of expanding the urban revitalization district would probably have to originate at the council level.