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Ted Conna and Randy Feldman of Save Notre Dame Alliance (Encore Episode)

Photo of Randy Feldman and Ted Conna outside Notre Dame
Sunday, September 2, 2018 - 10:00pm

In an encore of The Business Beat, Steve Jones-D'Agostino interviews Ted Conna and Randy Feldman of the Save Notre Dame Alliance. They talk about successfully reimagining good high-level reuses for Worcester’s historical and architectural treasures – and how we may get involved in realizing that vision.

This episode aired originally on May 27, 2018. Since then, demolition work has begun on Notre Dames des Canadien. In the spirit of full disclouse, Steve is a volunteer member of the Alliance.

Alliance members had offered the following arguments in support of their unsuccessful petitions to the Worcester City Council:

  • "First, major projects like CitySquare always have detailed development agreements between the city and the developer, and those agreements get amended as the project evolves. So if we want to preserve historic buildings—as we should—the city has to make redeveloping an important building like Notre Dame a requirement when it negotiates a development agreement. That did not happen in this case—even though the CitySquare General Development Agreement has been amended three times since Hanover bought Notre Dame, it was never required that Notre Dame be preserved.  But it absolutely should have been, given Notre Dame’s importance to the beauty, character, and history of downtown, and the city’s significant financial contribution to the success of CitySquare. We should learn from this. We ask the City Council to go on record in support of making preservation of historic buildings a pre-condition of future development agreements for projects such as CitySquare.
  • "Second, the more we learn about how historic buildings are successfully redeveloped, the more we understand why it’s been difficult for a private developer to profitably do the job without subsidy or public funding. Think of Mechanics hall, Union Station, the Hanover Theatre, the Central Building, and so forth—in every case, it was philanthropic gifts, and/or public subsidy that closed the gap between what the private market would support, and what was necessary to save the building. Hanover Theatre cost over $31 million to redevelop. Seventeen million dollars of it came from tax credits, and another $9 million was charitable gifts from foundations, local individuals and companies, including, of course, Hanover Insurance. Only $5 million was borrowed. The Central Building project includes $1.2 million in home funds from the City [of Worcester] and is pursuing various other funding sources, including historic and low-income housing tax credits. One-third of the $1.2 million Voke Lofts redevelopment was paid for with public funds. The architectural beauty of Notre Dame outshines all of these other examples, and by comparison, saving it would be a bargain. We ask the City Council to explore what public funding is available to save Notre Dame so the city can begin the process of securing it.
  • "And third, it’s important to understand that in every single case, the projects that make up CitySquare benefited from public funding. All of the demolition, including demolition on privately owned parcels, was paid for with public funds—mostly state and some local. All of the infrastructure—the streets and sidewalks and parking places—was paid for with state funds and local [district-improvement funding]. Unum, Saint Vincent Cancer/Wellness Center, and the AC Marriott all got [tax-increment-financing] packages. And all of these, plus the Mercantile and Roseland projects, benefited from publicly funded demolition - although in the case of the Mercantile Center, that benefit was minimal. Even the unbuilt project above the underground parking garage will only be possible because of the publicly funded demolition and infrastructure that created that site in the first place.

Conna went on to state, "So the obvious question is: Since we have subsidized everything else in City Square for the benefit of nice new buildings, why not also subsidize the redevelopment of the one nice, old building that remains: Notre Dame?  We ask the City Council to look at all the sources of public money that have funded the CitySquare project, how it has been used, and how it might be used to help save Notre Dame.

"In summary, after years of trying, the city and Hanover have been unable to find a profitable way to redevelop Notre Dame using private funds alone," Conna continued. "Yes, redeveloping Notre Dame is a challenging project, but we hope people are beginning to understand that when it comes to old buildings, they’re all challenging!  The T&G and Voke Lofts buildings both had significant environmental-cleanup costs. Old buildings have to be brought up to modern codes, and so forth. So the problem is not that saving Notre Dame can’t be done, it’s that we haven’t been comparing it on equal terms with all the other historic buildings we have successfully saved. Nor have we made the same effort to publicly fund Notre Dame that we made for almost every other building project in City Square. If we can’t do new construction there without public subsidy, why would we expect saving Notre Dame to happen without some public support?"

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