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Textiles to Technology

Gateway Park, a potentially $250-million,11-acre mixed-use life sciences complex, is just one of a number of high-end development projects downtown—including CitySquare, a new courthouse, and a new Hilton hotel—poised to turn around a city that has struggled to find its rhythm.

Indeed, the economic development drivers in central Massachusetts agree: Worcester is a city on the move. How else do you account for all the cranes downtown? Or the $1.3 billion that developers are pouring into the city’s numerous ongoing projects?

“The magnitude of this investment, both public and private, signifies the renewal and rebirth of Worcester,” says City Manager Michael O’Brien. “These projects reveal a new sense of community pride and confidence.”

“Gateway Park is a piece of the much larger puzzle,” adds David Forsberg, president of the Worcester Business Development Corporation. “What excites me most is that it’s not just going to be a biotech park, but the building of a community, based in the life sciences.”

Gateway Park, a partnership between WPI and the WBDC, aims to reclaim the region by turning brownfields into state-of-the-art life sciences facilities. “The fruits of Gateway Park will be more than jobs and real estate improvements,” says President Dennis D. Berkey. “The research and graduate training carried out in its facilities, and the collaborative relationships developed across constituencies in this park, will strengthen our labor force, fuel our life science companies, and enhance WPI’s research capabilities.”

Located on a parcel of land that previously housed some of the city’s old factories, Gateway Park is a transition to the region’s future, as well as a fitting tribute to the past.

“It will be a place where life-changing advances in science and medicine will meet the precision manufacturing our city has long been known for,” says U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern.

The Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park will create an estimated 300 jobs and will provide the city with more than $250,000 in tax revenue, a significant increase over the taxes collected on the vacant building. The space, located at 60–68 Prescott Street, will primarily house the WPI Bioengineering Institute and other university programs. Additional life sciences– related companies will also occupy the new building.

“Placing our researchers alongside these businesses will create a dynamic synergy in the area,” says D’Anne Hurd, vice president for business development at Gateway Park and WPI’s general counsel.

Hurd—whose background includes a number of VC-backed technology and biotech companies—began her new WPI post earlier this year. She is responsible for attracting tenants and other partners to Gateway Park. “We are simultaneously investing in the future of the life sciences field and the economic vitality of Worcester,” she says.

The partnership between WPI and the WBDC represents a nationwide trend in which universities and their hometown cities are seeking creative ways to work together. “We’re all in this together,” says Steve Hebert ’66, university vice president. “This has been a win-win for everyone—for the WBDC and WPI, for Gateway Park LLC, and for the city and state.”

In fact, the project has already garnered recognition. In June, the Environmental Business Council of New England will present its Brownfield Project of the Year Award to Gateway Park.

The Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center comprises a piece of the larger Gateway Park. Once completed, the complex will include housing, shops, and restaurants. Most important, it will provide jobs—an estimated 2,500—that will create residual economic activity.

“Gateway Park is important for the transition to the new [biotechnology] industry,” says Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce president Richard Kennedy ‘65. “I come from a traditional industry background, and those types of jobs just aren’t here anymore.”

Through Gateway Park and the other development projects, city officials hope to keep one of Worcester’s biggest assets: its 30,000 college students. “As the economy changes, businesses want to be where there are well-trained, well-educated people, of which we have a plethora,” says Mayor Timothy Murray. “We want to market that and build upon it.”

The project will also soften an area that, until recently, has been heavily industrial. By putting a new face on the entry point to Worcester, many people (140,000 cars drive along Interstate 290 every day) will begin to see a revived city. “People are used to seeing the backs of old buildings,” says state Sen. Edward Augustus. “But now they will see a very different picture of Worcester. They’ll see more modern buildings with glass, green space, and housing. It’s going to give Worcester a different kind of aura.” —CW

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Last modified: Apr 17, 2006, 14:04 EDT
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