Economic Development Committee mulls progress on two properties in Westborough
By Bonnie Adams
Westborough – As Westborough officials strategize to prime the town to take advantage of a slowly recovering economy, two particular projects – Bay State Commons and the Westborough State Hospital – top their list of priorities. At the May 3 Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting, the group’s members discussed a number of issues the town faces in its quest to maximize benefits from these projects.
Although Bay State Commons, the 54 acre mixed use development located at the site of the former Bay State Abrasives, has been open for several years, there is still plenty of available retail space for rent. What’s worse, according to EDC chair Rod Jané, is that many people do not even know that the complex is there.
“People don’t know about this mall,” he said. “There should be more advertising for it.”
Part of the problem, EDC members said, is that the owner, Westborough CC, LLC, is not based locally but rather, in Rochester, NY. As such, the members said, it appears that the owners feel as if the complex is an “out of sight, out of mind,” situation.
“There’s been no real progress in getting new tenants,” Town Planner Jim Robbins said. “We need to get the owner more motivated.”
“The owner needs to understand that once Northborough (Crossing) opens, tenants might leave to go there,” Town Manager Jim Malloy added.
“Our interest is in jobs and the values of empty buildings,” Jane said. “I don’t worry about the developer – I worry about our town. We need to be firm. The development needs to be salvaged. It’s too important to the town.”
The EDC agreed to have Malloy and Robbins contact the owner to try to work on implementing a marketing plan for the complex.
The EDC also discussed the progress on the Westborough State Hospital project. Several public hearings have recently been held to discuss what should next happen to this 108 acre property located off Lyman St. The project, which is managed under the direction of the Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), has drawn criticism from Westborough officials who object to proposed concept plans that would bring a heavy residential component to the site.
Another possibility, Robbins said, would be to market the space as a potential campus-type spot for start-up companies. Robbins said he had recently spoken with Timothy Rowe, the founder and CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), who has developed just such a spot in Cambridge. It was at CIC, Robbins added, that Google, Inc. and many other successful start-ups first began.
“Cambridge and Boston are now centers for life sciences,” Jané said. “But it is going to spread. There’s no reason why Westborough can’t be the Cambridge of central Massachusetts.”
One large issue that may stand in the way, the EDC members agreed, is the matter of the 30 plus buildings on the site that have been designated as historically significant, in spite of the fact that many of them are in very poor shape.
Robbins said that perhaps the town should be more pro-active in trying to convince local and state officials to concentrate more on protecting the site’s natural resources and landscaping rather than trying to save each of the historic buildings.
“I think the state wants to flip the property as fast as possible to get revenue,” he added. “But we need to do what is right for the town.”
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