From The Worcester Telegram – ‘Definitely a challenge’: $100 million needed to restore Worcester Memorial Auditorium

The estimated $100 million price tag to fix up the city’s long-vacant Memorial Auditorium in Lincoln Square comes with two questions: Is it worth it? Can it be done?

Yes, is the answer to both, said Jake Sanders as he recently gave the Telegram & Gazette a tour of the dilapidated 1933 building that serves as a memorial to World War I veterans.

The Worcester Telegram recently toured the Auditorium with AHF Project Executive Jake Sanders. Today, they published an in-depth look at the ongoing efforts to restore and revitalize the Aud. We urge you to read the whole article and take a look through the slideshow of images by Christine Peterson. We are grateful that the Worcester Telegram took the time to learn more about the project and tour the incredibly impressive space.

There are obstacles to be sure – if there weren’t, the Auditorium would have already been rehabilitated and currently in use. But we are dedicated to finding a modern and exciting reuse, connecting with investors, and bringing the Aud back to life.

Read the full article here.

2021 Year in Review

By all accounts, 2021 was a complicated year. While we came out of the worst of the pandemic and saw projects move forward in significant ways, there is still a sense of unease about the virus and how to operate in this ever-changing world. We have all learned to pivot again and again, to stay flexible, and to roll with the punches. But one thing is clear: we understand how AHF’s work to help communities spark economic and cultural growth is more important than ever. We are proud of what our team and our partners have accomplished this year – with grit, grace, and a lot of determination. Here are a few of our 2021 highlights.

The Speedway

2021 was the year that we took this complicated historic preservation project from a construction site to a living, breathing, revitalized destination to eat, drink and gather. Notch Brewing opened their taproom and biergarten over the summer, and this fall saw the openings of several Courtyard vendors and The Speedway’s flexible event space, Garage B. And we are just getting started: just wait until you see what 2022 will bring to The Speedway!

We were also so pleased to be a part of this video about DCR’s Historic Curatorship Program. We value our role in this important program that leverages private investment in the rehabilitation and reuse of significant historic properties, and were happy to talk about the experience on camera. Look for AHF’s Kara Anderson sharing some of her thoughts about our involvement with The Speedway! Bravo to Kevin Allen and the DCR team for putting together this important and compelling resource.

The Worcester Auditorium

As we moved ahead with one of our largest and most ambitious projects to date, the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, we took a significant leap forward: hiring Jake Sanders to be the Project Executive. The redevelopment effort, which aims to convert a five-story performance venue and memorial into an academic digital innovation lab, esports arena, and cultural center, is complex – to say the least. We needed someone on the ground that is smart, tactical, and knows Worcester through and through. With Jake, we found our ideal project executive, who is poised to lead the project into the next major phase in 2022.

Born and raised in Worcester, Jake played an integral role in the relocation of the Worcester Red Sox and the construction of Polar Park as a member of the negotiating and construction teams while employed by the City. While working for the City of Worcester, he spearheaded the redesign of the city website, created the process by which cannabis establishments would be allowed to operate, and represented the City with state and federal officials, corporate partners and community leaders to secure financial resources and strategic opportunities. You can read more about Jake and his role with the project here – but we really loved what U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern had to say about both: “The Worcester Memorial Auditorium is an architectural masterpiece, a magnificent monument to the veterans of World War I, and one of the crown jewels of our city. I’m thrilled that Jake Sanders will be leading the effort to turn this diamond in the rough into a downtown Worcester destination, and I look forward to partnering with him and his team as we bring this incredible venue back to life.”

Tax Credit and Grant Consulting

2021 was a year when we saw a lot of stuck projects get moving again. Over the years, we have learned a great deal about using historic tax credits and grants to take on “impossible” projects, and we love to bring that collected knowledge to partners across the region.

We worked with Trinity Financial to prepare Historic Tax Credit applications for the historic Marriner Mill in Lawrence, which will be kicking off construction in 2022. The project, known as Top Mill, joins a series of adaptive reuse efforts in Lawrence’s Arlington Mills Historic District, including Trinity Financial’s adjacent project at the Van Brodie Mill (now known as Arlington Point), that have revitalized vacant industrial buildings as much-needed residential space.

Our team continued to offer grant assistance and adaptive reuse guidance to projects like the Wright Building in Pittsfield, Cogswell School in Haverhill, North Brookfield Townhouse, the North Schoolhouse in Mt. Washington, and 343 Main Street, an underutilized anchor building in Great Barrington. Learn more about our current projects here.

Lastly, we harnessed the power of the Commonwealth’s new Underutilized Properties Program, assisting five applications for projects across the state. The program targets underutilized, abandoned, or vacant properties by supporting efforts that eliminate blight, increase housing production, support economic development projects, or increase the number of commercial buildings accessible to individuals with disabilities. In its first year, the program is funding 20 projects, totaling $7,516,000 in awards. More exciting information to come on these awards in 2022 – we have lots to share!

Our new branding – and our big move!

After a three-year strategic planning effort, we rebranded Architectural Heritage Foundation as AHF to reflect a shift away from historic property management to preservation-oriented development in under-resourced communities. We overhauled our website, shifted our focus, and after five decades at Old City Hall, we also moved our offices to The Speedway. The big move was partly an adaptation to the COVID economy, but primarily an effort to have a stronger presence in the communities AHF serves. Relocating to North Brighton allows AHF to strengthen its ties with the local community while emphasizing its commitment making preservation an option of “first resort” in historically under-resourced areas.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

What 2020 Meant for AHF and What’s Next in 2021

Aerial view of the Speedway
The Speedway from above. Courtesy of Jason Baker.

The Speedway viewed from above. Courtesy of Jason Baker.

“I think this virus is actually going to be a pretty big deal.” No truer words were ever spoken in AHF’s office – and no statement more understated. It was early February, and AHF staff were gathered in the conference room at Old City Hall for our weekly meeting. We had talked about our marketing strategy to bring tenants to the Speedway during what promised to be another boom year for restaurants and artisan retailers. We had marveled at our clients, the Friends of the North Brookfield Town House, who were taking bold steps toward a capital campaign to convert an historic building into a regional arts center. We had discussed the 2020 Main Street Now conference in Dallas, where we were to present on our strategy for advancing stuck preservation projects. Now Sean, AHF’s president, had turned the conversation to the news trickling out of Asia, Europe, and California. “We should probably look into some online meeting software,” he mused, “in case we have to work from home for a few weeks.”

Nine months later, we’re still working from home. AHF has witnessed the vulnerability and resiliency of the communities we serve: the struggling hospitals and food pantry lines; the creativity of small businesses striving to stay afloat; the kindness of strangers helping strangers. Throughout it all, we’ve tried to do our part to support our neighbors while keeping our own projects on track. As we bid good riddance to 2020 and welcome to 2021, we reflect on the work we managed to do during the pandemic, and on our hopes for the coming year.

The Speedway Produce Program

Staff from the Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) and Charles River Community Health pose with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.
Staff from AHF and Charles River Community Health with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.

Staff from AHF and Charles River Community Health with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.

The shutdown in March exposed food insecurity everywhere, including among our Allston-Brighton neighbors. With the Speedway renovations on hold for six weeks, we looked for ways to support the community. Inspiration came from our friend and colleague, Maggie Battista, who had been delivering hundreds of donated produce boxes to hard-hit communities in Chelsea. Following her model, we launched the Speedway Produce Program in partnership with Charles River Community Health (CRCH) and local wholesaler Katsiroubas Brothers. Thanks to generous donations from community members, the Harvard Ed Portal, Solomon McCown & Cence, and Newburg & Company, we distributed $14,000-worth of fresh produce to CRCH’s most vulnerable members over the course of four months. We’re humbled by CRCH and Katsiroubas Brothers’ continued dedication to making sure that people across Greater Boston have the care and nourishment they need to weather the pandemic.

Speedway Progress Update, December 2020

More than a year into construction, we can see the finish line! Our contractor, D.F. Pray, has been working hard to ensure a spring opening for the Speedway. We’ll let these photos speak for themselves.

Speedway with newly poured concrete walkway
The Speedway Building F with a newly poured concrete walkway. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Speedway upper floor hallway and staircase
The upper floor of Building F looks more habitable by the day! Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Speedway Building F - room with fireplace
Walls and fresh paint make this cozy room in Building F look even cozier. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
The Speedway Building F Interior
There’s plenty of room inside Building F for office or co-working space. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Building F staircase viewed from the ground floor
Notch Brewing's taproom under construction at the Speedway
Notch’s taproom is coming together. Can you see yourself here post-pandemic? Courtesy of Jason Baker.

ROAR at the Town House

The North Brookfield Town House and ROAR logos

AHF is in awe of the folks in North Brookfield who are turning a stuck preservation project into a catalyst for downtown revitalization. Despite the pressures of life during COVID, an economic decline that has hampered fundraising, and the dismal situation for performance venues, the Friends of the North Brookfield Town House are forging ahead with a capital campaign to redevelop the historic building. Over the past year, they worked doggedly with project partner and music industry professional Bonnie Milner to refine and put a name to the building’s future program: Rural Opportunity through Arts and Restoration (ROAR). A pilot program for what Bonnie hopes will become a national model, ROAR at the Town House will seek to build a creative economy in rural south-central Massachusetts through arts education and cultural programming – all within a restored, locally significant building. Check out the Friends’ new website to learn about this extraordinary project!

The North Schoolhouse – Our Newest Project

Mount Washington North Schoolhouse
The Mount Washington North Schoolhouse
North Schoolhouse interior - desks, chalkboards, and American flag
The Mount Washington North Schoolhouse – a time capsule

The North Schoolhouse — a time capsule

To our surprise, the pandemic doesn’t seem to have slowed preservationists down. We had many conversations in 2020 with people seeking to revitalize historic properties, and one discussion turned into our newest consulting project. The Town of Mount Washington, MA asked AHF to assess the feasibility relocating and restoring the nineteenth-century North Schoolhouse as a civic and cultural space. When we visited the building in November, we fell in love. The brown-shingled, one-room schoolhouse is located along a dirt road in the woods at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level and was once considered the most remote school in the Commonwealth. It looks much as it did 150 years ago: chalkboards, desks with inkwells, and adjustable child-sized chairs line the walls; spelling cards are still scattered across the teacher’s desk; graffiti dating to the 1870s decorates the wood storage room. Together with DBVW Architects, AHF is producing a feasibility study and cost estimates for relocating the building to the town center and restoring it as event and exhibit space. We have also offered (pending Town approval) to provide real estate guidance during 2021 and to assist with preparing an application to the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities Fund later in the year.

Worcester Memorial Auditorium

Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Worcester Memorial Auditorium
Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Shrine of the Immortal at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Matthew Dickey.

Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Shrine of the Immortal at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Matthew Dickey.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention our largest and most ambitious project, the Aud. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has pushed back the timeline on this redevelopment effort, which aims to convert a five-story performance venue and memorial into an academic digital innovation lab, esports arena, and cultural center. We are in the process of applying for Historic Tax Credits and seeking both public and private investment. In the meantime, we have begun an exciting videography project to showcase the Aud’s history and architecture. Keep an eye out for some short videos later in 2021.

As one of the most difficult years in living memory comes to a close, the work AHF does to help communities spark economic and cultural growth has new urgency. Our New Year’s resolution is this: to contribute to a robust recovery that produces vibrant, healthy neighborhoods whose heritage is honored and whose future is bright.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Learn more about the Charles River Speedway and Worcester Memorial Auditorium revitalization projects.

“Nothing but a Win for the City:” Worcester City Council Economic Development Committee Endorses Aud Proposal

The Worcester City Council Economic Development Committee has endorsed AHF’s redevelopment plans for the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. The Committee’s support facilitates the execution of a Land Disposition Agreement between AHF and the City later this month, paving the way for the building’s eventual sale to AHF or its subsidiary two years from now.

From the Worcester Business Journal – “At least $170 million worth of redevelopment projects could transform Lincoln Square”

With a few more years of planning and at least $170 million, three very different redevelopment projects at a trio of the city’s historic and long-vacant buildings at one of the city’s most high-profile intersections could dramatically transform a major gateway in Worcester. Those three historic buildings – the Worcester County Courthouse, the Lincoln Square Boys Club and the Worcester Memorial Auditorium – are either underway on a development project or slated for a rehabilitation in the coming months and years.

City of Worcester Manager Approves AHF’s Future Purchase of the Worcester Memorial Auditorium

This week, Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus offered his stamp of approval for the future sale of the Worcester Memorial Auditorium to AHF. His decision came four months after AHF submitted a final report to the City outlining a plan to redevelop the building as a cutting-edge educational and cultural center for for digital innovation, entertainment, entrepreneurship, and the arts.

From the Worcester Telegram & Gazette – “Worcester agrees to sell Worcester Memorial Auditorium to Architectural Heritage Foundation”

WORCESTER – The city has reached an agreement with the Architectural Heritage Foundation for the sale and redevelopment of the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Under the agreement, the Boston-based historic preservation group will purchase the historic city-owned building for $450,000 and projects investing a total of $94 million in redeveloping it, according to City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.

Let’s work together.