From Worcester Center Galleria Mall to CitySquare: Worcester, MA’s Urban Transformation

A Look Back at Worcester Center Galleria’s Origins

In the late 1960s, Worcester’s downtown landscape changed significantly when the Worcester Redevelopment Authority and the city embarked on a $127 million project, the Worcester Center Galleria.

At the time, the area was home to walkable city blocks teeming with locally-owned businesses housed in human-scale buildings. This vibrant commercial center was soon to be replaced by a massive complex.

When completed, the Worcester Center Galleria featured a 20-story office tower, an eight-story office building, an enclosed mall with one million square feet of retail space, and over 4,300 parking spaces on a 34-acre site.

The Galleria effectively severed the Central Business District and Downtown from Washington Square, Shrewsbury Street, and Canal District, creating an obstacle for future development.

Worcester Center Galleria

The Golden Age: Worcester Center Galleria (1971-1993)

The Worcester Center Galleria was once the heart and soul of Downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. Opening its doors on July 29, 1971, was the crowning achievement of the Worcester Center urban renewal project.

The two-level shopping mall connected 100 Front Street and 120 Front Street office towers and boasted an impressive 1,000,000 square feet retail floor area.

The Galleria was more than just a shopping destination; its design was also a marvel.

The design featured an arched roof modeled after the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy.

It boasted a 4,300-space parking garage, the largest in the world at the time.

This impressive combination made construction experts hail it as “the finest shopping center they had ever seen in the United States.”

The mall’s original anchor stores were Filene’s, Jordan Marsh, and Kennedy’s.

However, by the late 1980s, Filene’s and Jordan Marsh had moved out, and newer malls like the Auburn Mall and Greendale Mall started attracting customers away from the Galleria.

Worcester Center Galleria

A Glimmer of Hope: Worcester Common Fashion Outlets (1994-2003)

In 1994, New England Development acquired the Galleria from Worcester Center Associates and set out to revitalize the mall.

The Galleria returned on October 29, 1994, re-emerging as the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets.

The reopening brought drastic changes to the mall’s look, layout, and the stores it housed.

New anchor tenants included Saks Off Fifth Avenue Outlet, Media Play, Bed Bath and Beyond, Sports Authority, and Filene’s Basement (later VF Factory Outlet).

Despite the rebranding and new offerings, the mall’s fortunes did not improve. In 1996, the mall’s name was changed to Worcester Common Outlets.

The following year, in 1997, the opening of Wrentham Village Premium Outlets nearby further eroded the mall’s customer base.

From Mall to CitySquare (2004-present)

Business at the mall continued to decline until Berkeley Investments and its partner, Starwood Capital, announced their acquisition of the Worcester Common Outlets in 2004.

Leases were not renewed, and the mall emptied, closing for good in April 2006.

Berkeley Investments then embarked on an ambitious redevelopment plan, demolishing most of the mall and constructing a mixed-use development named CitySquare.

However, the $563 million project stalled for years as tenants were hard to secure.

However, in March 2009, insurance company Unum Group agreed to lease over 175,000 square feet in the future CitySquare development, and the project finally gained momentum.

Demolition of the former mall began in September 2010, with visible exterior demolition starting on May 18, 2011.

Today, the CitySquare project is a testament to the ever-changing urban development landscape.

Although the Worcester Center Galleria is no longer with us, its legacy lives on in the memories of those who shopped, worked, and spent time there.

Anchor Store Evolution: From Worcester Center Galleria to CitySquare

Worcester Center Galleria Anchor Stores

Anchor Store Brief Description
Filene’s A popular American department store closed in the late 1980s
Jordan Marsh A well-known American department store closed in the late 1980s
Kennedy’s A clothing retailer with a strong local presence

Worcester Common Fashion Outlets Anchor Stores

Anchor Store Brief Description
Sports Authority A large sporting goods retailer
Bed Bath & Beyond A popular home goods store
Saks Off Fifth An outlet store for luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue
Media Play A retailer of books, music, and movies
Filene’s Basement (later VF Factory Outlet) An outlet store for various clothing brands

CitySquare Anchor Tenant

Anchor Tenant Brief Description
Unum Group A leading insurance company leasing over 175,000 sq ft

Through the years, the anchor stores at the Worcester Center Galleria and its subsequent iterations have evolved to reflect the changing face of retail and urban development in the area.

From popular department stores in the early days to outlet stores during its revitalization, and finally, to a major insurance company in the CitySquare development, these anchors have played a significant role in the mall’s history and transformation.

CitySquare: A New Beginning for Worcester’s Downtown

Determined to reconnect and rejuvenate the downtown area, the City of Worcester began working with CitySquare II Development Co. LLC in 2010 to transform the urban landscape.

The project involved demolishing the mall and portions of the adjacent parking garage and constructing a new roadway network to re-establish the east-west connection through downtown.

CitySquare, a $565 million multi-phased project, represents a new era for Worcester’s downtown. To date, several significant investments have been made in the area, including:

  • A $70 million, 214,000-square-foot office building for Unum with an 860-car parking garage opened in 2012
  • An extension of the St. Vincent Hospital Cancer and Wellness Center
  • Construction of Worcester Common Garage
  • Development of 145 Front Street residential apartments with dedicated parking
  • Approximately 13,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space
  • The opening of a 168-room AC Hotel by Marriott in 2018

These investments have paved the way for further private development, such as the Mercantile Center.

This 640,000-square-foot office and retail complex comprises two office towers, three commercial/retail spaces, and a 1,650-space structured parking garage.

Mercantile Center is home to The Mercantile Rooftop Bar & Restaurant, a UMass Memorial Healthcare office, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and other office and retail tenants.

Reflecting on Worcester’s Past and Embracing Its Future

As Worcester’s downtown landscape continues to evolve, it’s essential to remember its rich history while embracing its future.

CitySquare represents a vital step toward revitalizing the downtown area, reconnecting neighborhoods, and fostering a vibrant, walkable urban environment for residents and visitors alike.

The project is a testament to the power of collaboration between the city, private developers, and various stakeholders.

As the CitySquare project progresses, it continues to breathe new life into Worcester‘s downtown, creating a dynamic space for businesses, residents, and visitors to enjoy.

Future Developments and Opportunities

With the success of CitySquare, there are numerous opportunities for future development and growth in Worcester’s downtown area. These may include:

  • Additional residential units to accommodate the city’s growing population
  • Expansion of retail and dining options to cater to diverse tastes and preferences
  • Enhanced public spaces for leisure, relaxation, and community events
  • Improved connectivity through the development of pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure
  • Continued support for local businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs

As CitySquare continues to take shape, it paves the way for Worcester’s brighter, more vibrant future.

The project serves as a shining example of urban revitalization and a source of pride for the local community.

A New Chapter in Worcester’s Urban Development

The Proposed Developments

Two seven-story buildings, proposed by Foresight Capital LLC, are set to rise on the former site of Notre Dame des Canadiens Church and an adjacent open space at CitySquare.

The plan for 5 Salem Square includes 163 one- and two-bedroom apartments, with 14 accessible units, above a ground-floor grocery store and restaurant.

CitySquare Worcester
CitySquare Worcester” by mike.benedetti is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This development is not just about adding living spaces; it’s a blend of convenience and lifestyle, featuring amenities like a fitness room and an outdoor pool.

The 3 Eaton Place project mirrors this concept, offering 145 apartments with commercial spaces on the ground floor, preserving some of the current open space for residents’ use.

35 Portland Street: The third project, by Portland Salem Realty, aims to transform a parking lot into a six-story building with 108 apartments.

This development prioritizes modern urban living, featuring a central courtyard, commercial space, and a ground-level parking garage with an innovative two-level car stacking system.

The Impact on Worcester

These developments are more than just buildings; they represent a new era for Worcester. The addition of over 400 apartments and retail and restaurant spaces is set to bring a new dynamism to the city center.

However, it’s noteworthy that none of these units are designated as affordable housing, a point that might raise concerns in the community.

The CitySquare is a vision of a vibrant, bustling downtown where residents can enjoy modern amenities and a lifestyle that blends the convenience of city living with the comfort of a well-designed home space.

As these plans move forward, they promise a revitalized city center, potentially attracting more people to live, work, and play in downtown Worcester.

Conclusion

The transformation of Worcester’s downtown landscape from the Worcester Galleria to the successful CitySquare project is a remarkable journey.

The revitalization efforts, investments, and collaboration between the city and private developers have resulted in a more vibrant, connected, and dynamic downtown that offers residents, businesses, and visitors opportunities.

As Worcester continues to grow and evolve, CitySquare stands as a beacon of progress and a testament to the power of urban renewal.

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