In an all new episode of The Business Beat, Steve Jones-D'Agostino, chief pilot of Best Rate of Climb, interviews John Giangregorio, chair of the Canal District Alliance and owner of the 22-year-old Three Gs Sports Bar, located in Worcester's Canal District.
The Blackstone Canal was conceived by businessmen in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island at the beginning of the 19th century, as a way to connect Worcester and the Blackstone Valley towns to the sea at Narragansett Bay. Financed by Yankee entrepreneurs and dug by Irish laborers, it was inaugurated in 1828 with the successful journey of the Lady Carrington upstream to Worcester.
Twenty years later, after ceasing commercial operations, the Blackstone Canal remained open as a waterway, becoming increasingly used as a sewer until it was arched over and forgotten in the 1890s. During the latter portion of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, the area formerly bisected by the canal became a thriving mixed-use and multi-ethnic neighborhood based on the Eastern European immigration of that period.
By the latter part of the 20th century, the canal area had lapsed into a long decline. The construction of I-290 destroyed a huge swath of housing to the east and largely cut off access from Grafton and Vernon hills. The Jewish population had prospered and moved to the city's west side. And Union Station, which had once boasted 162 trains per day, had closed and fallen into disrepair.
Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, the area has seen substantial rebirth as an entertainment district, now populated with about two dozen new bars, restaurants and clubs. Enclaves of retail activity are being established as well, and some of the larger buildings are being converted to residential use. Now referred to as the Canal District, the area is a popular night-time and weekend destination and is widely acknowledged to be the city's most actively developing neighborhood.
The introduction of streetscape improvements throughout the Canal District is expected to reinforce the progress of recent years. And the proposed Blackstone Canal project, which seeks either to open and restore or at least replicate the canal from Union Station south to Kelley Square - continues to spark imaginations throughout the city. The district is now served both by the active Canal District Business Association and by a broader affiliation group called the Canal District Alliance.
In recent years, the Canal District has been host to numerous events, including the annual Blackstone Canalfest, which takes place this year on September 7. On June 2, stART of the Street held a festival in the Canal District, which attracted about 20,000 people.