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Fitchburg, Urban Land Institute-Boston, MassDevelopment Address Economic Development at John Fitch Highway

September 15, 2011

Kelsey Abbruzzese, MassDevelopment, 617-330-2086 & 617-448-9077
Stephanie Wasser, Urban Land Institute, 617-239-0323
Matt Ellis, Urban Land Institute, 617-278-6560

As part of a partnership between MassDevelopment and the Boston District Council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to bring expertise in real estate planning, design, finance, and marketing to Gateway Cities, a panel of real estate experts convened in Fitchburg today to develop a plan for sustainable and viable development at the John Fitch Highway commercial area. During the daylong Technical Assistance Panel (TAP), experts will work to address the most feasible use for the business area; how best to configure the highway for traffic, pedestrians, and cyclists; and potential sources of funding for redevelopment.

“The City of Fitchburg and Mayor Wong have wisely sought assistance to attract more businesses and make aesthetic improvements to the John Fitch Highway area,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones. “The Urban Land Institute experts will doubtless help Fitchburg develop both commercially and sustainably.”

John Fitch Highway, between Summer Street and Townsend Street, was built in the 1950s with most commercial growth occurring in the 1960s. Farmland became commercial parcels, and workers filled in wetlands and rerouted the river as part of some of the construction. The economic downturn and changing shopping patterns have left some storefronts empty, and the City hopes to address whether these single-story, single-use buildings and strip malls represent the best use of this area.

“The essence of ULI is sharing knowledge and best practices; the ULI Boston members who are donating their time on this panel are leaders in redevelopment, finance and design. With MassDevelopment’s support, they will be able to give Fitchburg direction in its next steps regarding John Fitch Highway,” said Stephanie Wasser, Executive Director, ULI Boston.

Fitchburg sees John Fitch Highway’s potential to serve as a major entrance to the City. Fitchburg State University would like to connect several attractive, popular parks and surrounding neighborhoods to commercial areas within walking and biking distance. The City also hopes to mitigate Highway flooding since several times annually the road floods and has to close.

“I am so excited to have experts from all over the country work with our local businesses and officials to develop a plan for John Fitch Highway,” said Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong. “This plan will strengthen a key commercial area in the city, adding critical jobs to the region.”

The Urban Land Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research and education organization supported by its members. The Boston District Council, now with nearly 1100 members, holds a prominent spot in the Urban Land Institute’s top five District Councils globally. ULI Boston provides a unique membership opportunity crossing all sectors, disciplines, and product types within the real estate industry. Using this interdisciplinary approach, ULI examines land use issues, impartially reports findings, and convenes forums to find solutions.

MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, works with businesses, nonprofits, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth. During FY2011, MassDevelopment financed or managed 277 projects generating investment of nearly $3.7 billion in the Massachusetts economy. These projects are projected to create 10,239 jobs (2,502 permanent and 7,737 construction) and 1,350 housing units (336 new and 1,014 rehab).