WORCESTER - The City Council Economic Development Committee Tuesday enthusiastically threw its support behind a negotiated agreement for the sale and redevelopment of the Worcester Memorial Auditorium.
The action opens the door for the execution of a land disposition agreement later this month for the historic city-owned building with the Architectural Heritage Foundation and its nonprofit subsidiaries.
The purchase-and-sale agreement will set forth the terms going forward for the planned $94 million redevelopment of the auditorium. AHF would also then be able to seek preliminary investors for the project.
Douglas M. McGarrah, legal counsel representing the Boston-based historic preservation group on this matter, said the execution of a land disposition agreement will be the first step of a process that is expected to take two years to complete.
He said the tentative closing date for the property is around June 15, 2021.
District 2 Councilor Candy Mero-Carlson, committee chair, called the agreement "nothing but a win for the city."
"This is a pretty exciting night for the city of Worcester," Ms. Mero-Carlson said. "This building has been looked at, re-looked and re-looked at again. We wanted to do everything we could to save it. Working with the colleges on this, this is nothing but a win for the city. I'm very happy to move this forward."
Councilor-at-Large Gary Rosen echoed that sentiment.
"This building, its contents, its history are all in wonderful hands," he said. "This is exciting and it's a great project. I support it 100%."
Last month, the city reached an agreement with AHF for the sale and redevelopment of the auditorium. Under the agreement, AHF will purchase the auditorium for $450,000 and projects investing a total of $94 million in redeveloping it.
The plan calls for the rehabilitation and restoration of the auditorium into an innovative digital technology, arts and education center. It will also provide a forum for state-of-the-art commercial entertainment and an incubator for business entrepreneurs involved in the 21st century digital media industry, according to Kathryn Madden, a practicing urban planner and a full-time faculty member at Clark University who is assisting AHF on the project.
"This is a great opportunity for saving this building, positioning Worcester and activating this entire corner (in the Lincoln Square area)," Ms. Madden said.
In implementing its redevelopment plan, Michael E. Traynor, the city's chief development officer, said AHF will recognize the cultural, institutional and commercial users in the surrounding area and the historic nature of the auditorium.
He said the conveyance of the property will contain all necessary conditions and restrictions to preserve the exterior building facades, lobby, Memorial Hall, the Kimball organ and the interior murals.
"Preserving the building; that's their business," Mr. Traynor said of AHF.
Worcester Memorial Auditorium was built in 1933 as a monument to veterans of World War I. It consists of 110,668 square feet of building area on 2.42 acres at Lincoln Square, off the north end of Main Street. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of an Institutional District and has been vacant since 1999.
Mr. McDonnell said it has four distinct sections: main foyer/Memorial Hall, main auditorium, Little Theatre and the basement.
He said AHF was approached by Becker College more than a year ago about renovating the main auditorium for electronic gaming and interactive programming and events.
"It was something that we had not previously considered," Mr. McDonnell said. "The digital media world opened doors for us as a potential opportunity for the building."
Meanwhile, the Little Theatre is being eyed for renovation into a 300-seat IMAX-style theater, which would be used for smaller e-sports events, other university and medical interactive digital sessions, and programs hosted by adjacent institutions.
A single kitchen will service both a "high-quality" dining area, to be situated in the War Memorial Hall, as well as smaller concessions situated throughout the auditorium complex. Meanwhile, the basement would serve as an incubator for the digital economy, with spaces dedicated to media workrooms, medial multipurpose rooms, production space, video rooms, green rooms, lounges and offices.
Alan Ritacco, dean of the School of Design and Technology at Becker College, said the renovated auditorium with its focus on digital technology and e-sports will be a game-changer for the city.
"There isn't another building like this in New England," he said. "This will be a first and put Worcester on the map."
Mr. McDonnell said the financing for the project will involved private money and tax credits.
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