City council live blog — 12/14/10

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

Agenda. Cover It Live. Get ready for a lot of economic development talk. See you at 7:00.

7:10: Just waiting for the councilors to come out of executive session. Stay tuned.

7:38: Here we go. Long executive session. Haller starts off by talking about the streets and sidewalks initiative. She says there are concerns that sidewalks are being overlooked, and if a street isn’t fixed, then that bordering sidewalk will be ignored. Citizens are here with a petition that asks the city to address sidewalks that are in need of repair even if the streets aren’t.

James Connolly speaks on this, praising the initiative but highlighting the need for sidewalk improvements, especially for elderly, disabled, and children walking to school. Another citizen provides photos of sidewalks most in need.

7:43: Rushton asks the council to approve 50 Prescott St. as an Economic Opportunity area — in other words, here’s another TIF. “It’s a symbolism of our growing bioscience and lifescience field…it will be used to retain an emerging biotech company.” He says local labor will be used in the project. (He wants to see 100% local labor.)

Palmieri congratulates/thanks the Economic Development subcommittee for their “speedy response” on this issue. He says there’s a “host” of other developments coming in that area as well.

Smith says he was happy to hear more about the project. He echoes the need for local labor and trades, citing the unemployment rate. “Overall it’s a great project and will go a long way toward building up that area.”

7:48: “Great project for the city,” says Clancy. It’s a $24 mil project. It even says in the forms that the developer will use local labor. He commends the mayor and congressman for their local labor stance, and references the “fiasco” at 180 Main St. when local labor wasn’t being used. Another issue with this was at the North High School development. He wants to find a way to make sure local groups get their crack at work on local projects.

Lukes says she was concerned that “local labor” doesn’t just mean union labor. It sounds like those concerns aren’t there anymore. She also says some people were scared by the 16 year TIF, but she says that shows a commitment by both the company and the city.

Petty notes WPI as a partner in this, and that a company might’ve left Worcester if the building wasn’t built. Haller thanks Rushton for his committee’s work on this issue. She says “this is an indication that Worcester has arrived.” “I’m hoping that this is the first of many projects O’Connell [Development] gets involved in in the city.”

Toomey calls this a win-win for all of us. “This speaks loudly to future businesses that want to invest here in our community. We’re committing long term to bring businesses here.” She thanks Julie Jacobson and M.O’Brien.

The council votes unanimously in favor of the designation and TIF.

7:56: The Elenor T. Hawley award is presented to Father John Madden and Hilda Ramirez.

8:00: Haller talks Wyman-Gordon. She says the company is not looking to be cooperative with the city. “Wyman-Gordon is holding this section of the city hostage to redevelopment” — referring to their property in Green Island. She says they refuse to work with the city to find the best ways to reuse those properties. J.O’Brien calls it an “eyesore.” M.O’Brien says there’s been “no breakthrough.”

“We need to figure out a way to get a breakthrough on this one,” says Haller.

She brings up Pharmasphere and the South Worcester Industrial Park. She’s lost patience with Pharmasphere too. She says if there is no progress by the end of next month the city should go and re-bid this project. The South Worcester Industrial Park advisory board agrees with her. “This is a reflection on Pharmasphere and not the City…this is a frustrating experience.”

8:04: Julie Jacobson says Paul Morano had a conversation with Pharmasphere today (but offers no further details). She says a letter has been sent to Pharmasphere and the Jan. 31 deadline has been given to the company, and has asked other investors for letter of commitment and proof of financing.

Petty compliments the City admin for going out into the community as a business retention plan. He’s gotten good feedback from it. One question about storefront improvements. Jacobson says stores outside NSRA districts aren’t available to receive storefront improvement money — but she says the City’s admin. are available for meeting one on one with business to help them secure funding from other areas.

Petty wants an update on Lake Aerospace. Jacobson says it’s “on the back burner” and still looking for financing. They’re looking for a state ITC still. There’s still a $400,000 gap in their financing they have to close.

8:14: Eddy wants clarification on why HUD funds can’t be used for June/Chandler St. businesses. Jacobson says the storefront program is directly tied to Neighborhood Stabilization funds — five NRSAs were designated by the city three years ago (with one more year left on the plan).

Jacobson says HUD regulations say you need to clean up blight and offer job creation (among other criteria). Eddy sarcastically asks if there are any programs through the feds that benefits the west side of Worcester.

He wants to know what will happen to the property where the Price Chopper is on Mill St. when the lease ends. Jacobson says the owner isn’t dealing with subleasers, but it’s on their radar that the lease is up soon.

8:24: Lukes says she was disappointed to see the demolition of Notre Dame church. Tim McGourthy says it’s a mistake. The church won’t be demolished. The demolition referred to CitySquare. Lukes brings up Wyman-Gordon — maybe they can be talked into doing some plantings by Kelley Square, and new businesses there deserve a better image for the area. M.O’Brien says nuisance ordinances have been enforced against Wyman-Gordon. She also has questions on the Hadley Building. She wants to know what the city’s cost was on the rehabbing of Hadley.

Jacobson says the most recent report was last year, and no additional funding has been spent, but $250,000 has been spent on the parking aspect. Total project cost was $25 million. Jacobson says she wants to file a report including the private funding. Overall she says there were 30 different sources of funding, including tax breaks. Lukes also wants to know what the City sees as the “future of that building.”

8:29: Palmieri echoes Haller on Wyman-Gordon. “This has been an issue that has not been addressed for an indefinite period of time.” He says the property should be inspected and “treated like everyone else” — as in, fine ’em if they’re breaking code. “See if they’re fulfilling their obligation as a good private developer for the city at-large and that district.” He’d also like to know if there are any quality of life issues occurring because of that site, and if it’s monitored and if there are issues with homeless people on the property. “I’ll be surprised if you’re able to reach them,” he says of the company. Palmieri says it’s his understanding that they want $1 mil/acre to sell. He wants to know what the real assessed value is.

8:34: Toomey wonders if it could be put on the problem properties list, and that it brings down the value of neighboring businesses. She also wants to know when we’ll see “more visual demolition” at CitySquare. M.O’Brien says visual signs are being done now, especially in regard to PCBs and asbestos. Substantial work will start in late winter and beginning of next year. They have to, as Unum moves in in the fall of 2012.

Toomey would like to know about job retention, “what do we need to do to help our residents become long term employees” regarding Walmart.

Toomey wants to know about the St. Vincent’s building that’s been referred to as “bombed out” and Beirut. McGourthy says Worcester Academy has bought a portion of the site, but tenants still continue to live in the building. But tenancies are over within a year or two.

Toomey also brings up the WooCard. “They deserve great credit.” There’s been a request to let college students use their college ID cards essentially as a WooCard. StART at the Station was “wall to wall,” she adds, offering congrats “to all involved in that.”

She also wants a report on hotel rooms. “Do we have enough hotel rooms?”

8:43: Germain wants to know if the loss of the Crown Plaza would exclude Worcester from bidding on things like NCAA tournaments. Germain wants an update on the Business Retention program.

Paul Morano says the program is now more proactive, all industry types, all over the city. Basically, they introduce themselves to the owners and let them know they’re available for help. Morano says they’ve gotten great feedback and it’s been “very successful.”

Germain wants to know if they keep track of small businesses that leave the city for another town, if there are exit interviews. (He says this leads into next week’s tax rate discussion.)

8:47: Smith wants to know if there’s any update on the Gateway Cities legislation. Right now the only tool Worcester has available is a TIF or DIF, and some companies don’t qualify for it. He’d like more resources to attract companies. M.O’Brien says they’ve met with Mass Inc. about the legislation and to continue to push for it in this new legislative session. Smith talks about wanting to see the city become “a more business friendly city.”

Smith agrees with Eddy that it’s a problem that certain tools and financing are available for certain business in certain areas.

8:53: Haller talks about junction shops on Beacon St. That building could be demolished “in fairly short order.”

8:56: Clancy holds the items relating to CSX. Issues have popped up relating to the driveway on the Shaws property they just acquired. He’s concerned how that driveway will be closed off, how it will look, and what materials will be used to close it off.

9:03: Smith and Eddy bring up the lack of Verizon service on the west side. Eddy says whenever they petition for a new pole a common response from the City will be asking for a report as to how they’re going to fix the issue.

Toomey says other areas of the city are having “serious difficulties.” Citizens should send other problem areas to Verizon.

9:05: Toomey talks North Main/Highland revitilization. She wants to know if grants and preservation funds can be used to swap properties there with parking areas.

9:10: Petty talks the Charter contract that’s coming up for renewing. He says Google’s supposed to come out with their FTTP project that Worcester applied for. Clancy wants to know about what kind of improvements can be made, and looking at what other cable companies across the country are doing. He’s especially peeved about their ratings. “We need to do better with that company.”

9:17: Lukes wants to know if an alcohol prevention program can be modeled after the City’s tobacco prevention program.

9:22: Lukes asks if establishing a regional communications center is time sensitive. She holds it.

9:23: Haller encourages people to call the city when the see vacant buildings that seem “unsecure.” She says “we need to be consistent in our message” as the city moves from sheltering to housing that the available housing for homeless is safe.

9:32: M.O’Brien talks about the snowflakes with “W”s in them around the city. The makers at Worcester Tech will get congratulated by the councilors tomorrow.

9:33: CFO Tom Zidelis says the tax rate report team is having trouble getting some information from the Dept. of Revenue on new growth in the city. They wanted to have it done last week.

Rushton says Doherty High School was rated 1.5/10 on the needs improvement scale by state officials. “It’s time to bring this conversation to the mainstream.” He wants a report in collaboration with the Superintendent to find funding to revamp Doherty.

9:38: Adjourned!

The council sings happy birthday to Mike O’Brien. No word on whether or not today is his actual birthday.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “City council live blog — 12/14/10

  1. Councilor Rushton isn’t citing an actual report, but a comment made by one official in passing to someone at Doherty. The MSBA list comes out in January, and we’ll have a real idea then of what Worcester’s top needs are in school buildings.

  2. mike

    i still think csx isnt going to go through. Clancy holding it last night for some small because of driveways issues. One councilor or another is always going to have some small issue to gripe about. I can see this deal falling apart in the not to distant future.

  3. And to answer the question from Cover It Live: no, no plugs as of yet in the gallery. I learned this week that the Levi Lincoln Room balcony does have plugs, though.

  4. -Q

    Tracy, I think you need an extension cord…………

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