Numerous colleges and universities in recent years have embarked on transformative real estate development projects that have revitalized their surrounding neighborhoods. In Worcester, Clark University is contributing to revitalization of the Main South neighborhood. Its efforts to reinvigorate the low-income, minority neighborhood have been acclaimed as a national model for urban university/ community collaborations.
The University Park Partnership, which focuses on housing, education, economic growth and community activities, has helped raise property values and decrease crime. The late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy described it as “the best example of how a university should relate with its community.”
Now, Clark is building a $19 million Alumni and Student Engagement Center across Main Street from its campus to house its Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP) Center. The center will improve public safety by providing muchneeded lighting in the area. It will include expanded parking, which will be shared with a local church, as well as a plaza and green space. Solar panels will deliver nearly half of the building’s energy.
Other exciting examples of the positive impact of higher education real estate development in Worcester include Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s renovation of a former brownfield site to create Gateway Park, an 11-acre life sciences center; the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences development of a new campus in downtown Worcester, including the conversion of the former Crowne Plaza Hotel to student housing, bringing an influx of students; and Quinsigamond Community College’s expansion into the former Worcester Telegram building near City Hall. In doing so, Quinsigamond’s renovation plan purposefully left out a cafeteria to encourage students to frequent downtown restaurants.
Worcester’s colleges and universities have drawn praise from The New York Times and others for their revitalization of the city. Their efforts have contributed to population growth, a 5 percent increase in average wages and thousands of new jobs. According to a study by BankBoston, Worcester’s 10 colleges and universities and their 36,000 students have a $1.5 billion impact on Massachusetts, including a $1.15 billion impact on Worcester County and $.76 billion impact on the city of Worcester. As former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, now president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, noted, colleges in Worcester are able to “anchor and improve individual neighborhoods, boosting the entire city.”
Emerson College: Combat Zone To Cultural Hub
Emerson College’s bold move in the 1990s of its student dormitories to downtown Boston helped revive the Theatre District and clean up the infamous Combat Zone, a red light district that was rife with crime, drugs and prostitution.
Emerson faced financial peril before the move but afterwards saw a 50 percent increase in enrollment. Students thrived on access to the city’s entertainment and communication hubs. The move benefited the neighborhood as well; Emerson’s construction of a new campus and its renovation of historic theaters has been credited as one of the biggest factors in the rejuvenation of the Theatre District. As Jacqueline Liebergott, president of Emerson at the time, stated: “We have reinvented Emerson … and reinvigorated the Theatre District in the process.” Downtown Crossing became a “cultural mecca” again.
MIT And Kendall Square: An Innovation Laboratory
MIT transformed Kendall Square from abandoned factory buildings and vacant lots into a bustling innovation hub.
In the 1970s, MIT helped purchase vacant land intended for a NASA facility. Development followed, attracting a cluster of biotech firms. MIT then worked with the city of Cambridge to develop the first local ordinance regulating research with recombinant DNA. This attracted more biotech companies who recognized the unique municipal support for the research.
MIT recently embarked on the Kendall Square Initiative, which will create academic, commercial and retail spaces, as well as student housing and open space. MIT has described the plan as “the transformation of Kendall Square into a more dynamic and varied center of activity.” The initiative will undoubtedly benefit MIT by providing housing and research space but also the neighborhood and region by spurring economic growth.
These examples show that properly planned and coordinated real estate development projects by urban colleges and universities can have transformative impacts on their surrounding neighborhoods with mutual benefits for both the schools and the communities.