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Mass. finance agency invests in Worcester theater district

September 20, 2017 : Telegram & Gazette, by Lisa Eckelbecker

WORCESTER – A downtown building targeted for redevelopment got some colorful wrappings this week as city and state officials gathered to celebrate the project.

The Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, which recently bought the two-story building at 526 Main St. and has draped its second-floor windows with banners, said it will soon seek proposals from developers on how the property could be re-used.

MassDevelopment officials said they are aiming for something to positively impact the neighborhood dubbed the “theater district.”

The agency wants “developers to help us with ideas about what would be the best use for the property to make sure that it is redeveloped in a way that will revitalize the community and have the best economic use in Worcester,” said MassDevelopment President and Chief Executive Lauren Liss, who spoke to about 40 people on Wednesday at the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Long home to a pawn shop, the building at 526 Main St. contains 27,542 square feet of space. The second floor was once home to a salon school, but is vacant.

MassDevelopment paid $800,000 for the property under its program to transform troubled properties. This week it installed decorative banners across the building’s second-floor windows.

The agency does not want a redeveloper to put offices on the building’s first floor, and it’s hoping a redevelopment plan will come up with something that complements the Hanover Theatre, according to Mike Mitchell, vice president of planning and development for MassDevelopment’s real estate division.

Troy Siebels, president and chief executive of the Hanover Theatre, said he hopes the next user of the building comes up with something culturally focused. The theater’s conservatory programs could even use more room, he said.

“I would love to lease space from them and expand into it,” Mr. Siebels said.

The theater district is one of the segments of Worcester’s downtown that private developers and public policy makers are working to improve. Craig L. Blais, president and chief executive of the Worcester Business Development Corp., said it remained important to focus on some buildings.

“Most importantly to get these buildings in the right hands to promote what we want – retail, active street life, and an 18-hour community that is vibrant and supports everything that’s going on in the city,” Mr. Blais said.