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Central Building gets renovation OK; Facade to be repaired in preparation for mixed-use development.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER -- The Historical Commission has given the owner of the vacant Central Building on Main Street a green light to renovate the downtown landmark into a mixed-used redevelopment.

The commission Thursday night unanimously agreed to the developer's request for a waiver to the city's demolition delay ordinance so that the building's windows and doors can be removed and replaced.

Also, work will be done to restore and repair historic facade features to the building's ground-floor storefront spaces.

In granting the waiver, the commission determined that the exterior work to be done to the Central Building will not be detrimental to the historical or architectural resources of the city.

Without the waiver from the Historical Commission, the owner would have had to wait one year before any of that work could begin.

The eight-story building, at 322-332 Main St., was built in 1925. It is owned by 332 Main Street Associates, a group controlled by the Krock family. The building has been vacant the past few years.

It was formerly an office building, with commercial space on the first two floors.

Brian Lever, a preservation planner with Epsilon Associates Inc., said the owner wants to renovate the building into 59 units of housing, with commercial/retail uses in the ground-floor storefronts.

The housing units would be a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units, and the project would have a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.

Mr. Lever said the owner is looking to obtain state and federal historic preservation tax credits to help finance the project.

The Historical Commission had been told previously that the estimated cost of the project is roughly $26 million.

Andrew Shveda, vice chairman of the commission, said he was very pleased to hear that pieces of the truly historic elements of the building's storefronts will be restored and preserved.

"It sounds like great care is going to be taken to refurbish them, and that is very, very nice,'' he said. "This is a very good thing for downtown Worcester, and it's a great thing to bring in more people to live in the downtown area. This project, as presented to us, is sympathetic to the historical features of the building, particularly at the ground level, where there is going to be an effort to save as much as possible with the storefronts.''

The Central Building had actually come close to a date with the wrecking ball.

In November 2012, its owner petitioned the Historical Commission for a waiver to the demolition-delay ordinance so the building could be demolished. It was claimed that the vacant building had become an economic hardship to maintain because it was no longer generating any income.

But the Historical Commission denied the waiver request in March 2013, saying an adequate case of economic hardship was not made.

After the one-year delay expired, the owner was free to demolish the building last year without any approval from the Historical Commission.

Instead of going ahead with the demolition, however, the owner decided to save the building and have it renovated into a mixed-used development.

Commissioner Timothy McCann said he is glad that the owner decided to go in that direction.

He said he had no problems with having all the building's windows replaced because it looks like there had been piecemeal replacement of the original windows over the years. He said replacing all the windows will give the building a more cohesive look.

"We're very happy that the building is being saved,'' he said. "All of us want this project to succeed. Anything we can do within reason, and still maintain the historical character of the building while making it a viable commercial option, is something I think we're all in favor of.''

Commissioner Robyn Conroy echoed that sentiment, saying she is happy that another use has been found for the Central Building because she considers it a mainstay of the downtown.

"It's great to see that the building is going to be re-used and have people in there to appreciate its beauty,'' she said. "It's really a beautiful building.''

The building, which has nearly 84,400 square feet of space, is assessed at $2.9 million; it had been assessed at $1.4 million two years ago.

The owner had filed an earlier demolition-delay waiver request with the Historical Commission in 2011, but subsequently withdrew it and invested in upgrades to the building while it bid on a state contract for office space. But the owner did not get that contract.

Contact Nick Kotsopoulos at Follow him on Twitter @NCKotsopoulos.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Kotsopoulos, Nick
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 7, 2015
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