Developer envisions $35M Worcester County Courthouse towers

Click here to read the original article in the Worcester Business Journal.

A $35-million proposal for the former Worcester County Courthouse calls for 300 market-rate apartments in two new buildings and a reuse of the 1800s court building with office and retail space.

The proposal would bring new life to Lincoln Square, which has sat mostly dormant with the vacant courthouse and Worcester Memorial Auditorium.

"This is going to energize Lincoln Square," said Peter Heaney, the owner of Onsite Builders & Development of Westwood. "It's like a sleeping giant."

The proposal from Onsite Builders & Development was one of four received by the city Friday for reusing the 4.3-acre courthouse site at the corner of Main and Highland streets. Also submitting letters of interest were Vision Development, which created the Edge at Union Station residences, Trinity Financial, a large Boston developer, and Israel Real Estate of Worcester.

Vision, which is based in Pennsylvania, has several other student-focused housing projects in its portfolio, including one under development in downtown Lowell. It also has several office buildings and a science building at Villanova University.

Trinity Financial has built several larger residential projects, mostly in Boston but also in New Bedford and Lowell.

Vision said it had no one available to comment Friday on its interest in the site. Trinity and Israel couldn't be reached for comment.

City officials will review the proposals in the coming weeks and brief City Manager Edward Augustus on each one before deciding how to move forward, city spokesman John Hill said.

Onsite Builders & Development don't have the site yet, but aren't waiting on pitching a major redevelopment that would transform the northern edge of Main Street.

Plans for the Lincoln Square Courthouse Residences, as the project is called, call for a glass ceiling over the courthouse's interior courtyard, which would make the utilitarian space usable. Two modern buildings, six stories and 10 stories each, would rise behind the building by Harvard Street.

The project already has financing in place, and construction could start as soon as permitting is in place, Heaney said.

Developer and Dunkin' Donuts franchisee Rob Branca said he signed on as a consultant for the Lincoln Square Courthouse Residences project as soon as he saw the proposal.

"We said, 'How could we not be involved?'" he said.

Branca's Branded Management Group has developed several Worcester buildings, including the Harrington Corner building at Main and Front streets across from City Hall, and adjoining buildings on Shrewsbury Street that host Volturno and Sweet restaurants and Wormtown Brewery.

This will be the city's second attempt at getting the site redeveloped.

A New Hampshire firm, Brady Sullivan Properties, bought the property from the city in 2015 for $1.2 million, but backed out last December. The company had planned to convert the property into 115 market-rate apartments and 3,000 square feet of retail space.

The nearly 250,000 square-foot Worcester County Courthouse has been vacant for a decade, since its replacement opened a few blocks down Main Street. The city bought the courthouse property from the state for $1 in 2014, and then spent $3 million on asbestos and other environmental cleanup on the building.

The oldest part of the courthouse, the Greek Revival building on Main Street, was built in 1843 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An addition on the Harvard Street side of the property was built in 1954.

The site is zoned for general business use.

 

Rebecca Rutenberg