Big bucks for Main South biz: $950,000 grant to bankroll 7 new storefronts on Main St.

January 28, 2022 : Telegram & Gazette, by Henry Schwan

WORCESTER – A proposed $2.9 million project to help some minority-owned businesses in Main South received a piece of good news.

It arrives in the form of a $950,000 grant from the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, also known as MassDevelopment, for construction of a one-story building with seven commercial storefronts at 807-815 Main St.

The location has sat vacant for more than 30 years and includes three lots where a rooming house and other housing once stood. 

“The lot had been vacant and possibly attracted some undesirable activity over the years,” said Steve Teasdale, executive director of the Main South Community Development Corp. 

Main South CDC proposed the project, and each storefront ranges from 1,175 to 1,720 square feet. 

Design work continues, and the city’s Planning Board must approve the proposal. If that happens, construction could start in July and finish by the end of this year or early spring 2023. 

“This investment in a capital project is a statement by MassDevelopment of their intent not just to change the physical appearance (of Main South) but also provide some economic equality and access to capital appreciation for minority businesses which have been in Main South for years and not had that opportunity,” said Teasdale.

Lease-to-own option

Partially subsidized rents will exist for the first five years while Main South CDC manages the building. 

Then a lease-to-own feature kicks in, giving renters the option to buy their space. The goal is to offer a sale price that equals or falls below their rent payments.

The five-year rent period is important, Teasdale said, so businesses can establish a strong credit history in order to access loans from banks and other traditional sources. 

Besides the $950,000 grant, another source of committed revenue to meet the project’s total $2.9 million price tag is $200,000 set aside by the state from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Additional ARPA funds could be available through the city, and Main South CDC will apply for them. Other funding could arrive from short-term loans through MassDevelopment or other local sources. 

Fitchburg in the mix

Fitchburg also received a grant from MassDevelopment for $75,000 to help fix up a building at 409 Main St. that sat vacant for 13 years.

The project calls for a commercial business on the ground floor and four apartments above. Construction is expected to wrap up in late spring.

Both grants are through MassDevelopment's Transformative Development Initiative to spur economic growth in Gateway cities like Worcester and Fitchburg. Gateway cities have populations between 35,000 and 250,000.

More: 'It's a new Main South': Rebranding the stigma of a Worcester neighborhood

TDI previously invested $30,000 in a Main South branding campaign that includes 52 street banners to highlight the neighborhood as an inviting destination.