“Each of us living or working in the city has an important voice in shaping Worcester’s future development. Jane Week (May 1-7) is designed to prompt deep discussions and debates on our urban design and to give people a chance to think about the variables that make Worcester come alive.”
When word filtered out in October 2015 that Cliff Rucker wanted to bring pro hockey back to Worcester, the sum and substance of what was known about him by the city at-large was contained in three words: “Eastern Mass. businessman.”
If the hockey team were still Rucker’s only connection to the Heart of the Commonwealth, that description might well still suffice. However, in the past 18 months Rucker’s portfolio and profile in Worcester have expanded dramatically.
In April 2016, less than six months after confirming his interest in an ECHL franchise and four months after signing a lease with the DCU Center, Rucker purchased 90 Commercial St. The former Bar FX will be home to a Worcester Railers HC tavern, which is set to open in, well, read on …
I can walk around downtown Portland for five hours and not get bored. I’m not sure you could do that on Main Street right now in Worcester. I think you’re going to get bored pretty quick; there’s not enough stuff to do.
That same week, Rucker confirmed he would partner with Marathon Sports Group and the Worcester Business Development Corporation to construct a multipurpose ice rink facility on the site of the former PresMet facility at Harding and Winter streets in the Canal District.
Rucker’s involvement jump-started the $15 million-$18 million project.
“He really stepped in on the hockey rink deal to make that happen when it had stalled,” Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said. “He saw an opportunity that made sense for the hockey team to have the rinks there. But he also is a father whose kids are actively involved with sports. He also, I think, saw an opportunity to expand hockey in the region and specifically is talking about programs that expand hockey for kids who might not ordinarily have access.”
Courtesy Worcester Railers
An artist’s rendering of the planned Canal District dual hockey rink complex.
WBDC President and CEO Craig L. Blais said: “We negotiated a long-term ground lease on a very tricky piece of property that involved environmental contamination and a tricky set of tenants, complex tenants, that had to be signed up, and he got through all that. And the deal got done.”
The groundbreaking took place in May, and construction began in October. The Worcester Ice Center will include two rinks, two restaurants (Nonna’s Kitchen and Nonna’s Cafe) operated by Niche Hospitality, a physical therapy center operated by Reliant Medical Group, retail shops, and a strength training facility.
Rucker expanded his footprint in the Canal District in September 2016 by purchasing 3.5 acres around the rink complex for $2.1 million. The land included the former St. John’s High School and The Compass Tavern.
If granted, Rucker’s application for a demolition waiver delay from the Worcester Historical Commission would pave the way for the demolition of the former high school.
Finally, in December, Rucker purchased for $2.8 million the Bowditch & Dewey building at 311 Main St., plus the parking lot bordered by MLK Boulevard and Commercial and Exchange streets.
In addition to his roles as the owner of a hockey team, Rucker’s multimillion-dollar investments in Worcester have made him a public figure and one of the faces of Worcester’s resurgence. Inasmuch as Rucker has adopted Worcester, the city has adopted him as one of its own.
“Cliff, first and foremost, is a good person, a good family man, but he’s also a very accomplished businessman,” Murray said. “He knows how to quickly analyze a situation. He’s built a number of businesses, so he gets it.
“I think he’s seen some of the economic development momentum in the city. He also has a real estate company, so he’s not unfamiliar with real estate. He’s a very smart guy, and a good guy. … As important as his investments are, and they are enormously important — they are bringing new dollars and new energy into the city, and jobs come about because of that — but he’s also interested in becoming a member of the community. That to me is just as important. He’s not just an investor and business owner.”
Murray continued: “There’s always a small but loud chorus of people that root for failure every day, but the validation is people like Cliff Rucker, people from the outside coming in and seeing what teamwork and collaboration is able to get done. … There’s more work to do, but that work is quickened when people like Cliff come in and become such a meaningful part of the community.”
Blais said, “There are those who are dreamers and there are those who get things done. Cliff is a doer. When he sets his sights on something he wants to get done, he gets it done. …
“I know the Railers will be first-class operation and Worcester is very fortunate to have Cliff Rucker doing business here as both a professional team owner and developer here in the city. We’re very pleased to have Cliff here, and he’s a pleasure to work with.”
David Niles / For Worcester Sun
Worcester Sun sat down with Rucker for a wide-ranging conversation in which he discussed, among other things, becoming a public figure for the first time in his professional life, becoming part of a Worcester community, his expanding role in the revitalization of Worcester, his goals for the Railers, the future of The Compass Tavern and the site of the former St. John’s High, and what he considers the true metrics for success.
[Editor’s note: Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.]
In October 2015, about a year and half ago, you announced your intention to bring hockey back to Worcester. You’re now about six months from having the puck dropped. Tell us about the part of the journey you’ve completed and the part that remains.
Sunday, April 9 — Canal District ArtWalk, noon-5 p.m., various locations, 50-96 Water St. Just to be clear, if you’re planning to attend the season’s first of this popular monthly series you’ll be doing the walking; the art stays put — for the most part. Now that that’s out of the way, on to the really important details: More than 40 local artists, musicians, poets and street performers will be dotting the sidewalks; there will be a live art demonstration; henna and face painting; and even a Pawtucket Red Sox ticket giveaway.
[Scroll down to see Figs & Pigs’ Candy Murphy clowning around with the Globetrotters.]
Sunday, March 5 — Worcester Chamber Music Society Annual Free Family Concert, 3-4 p.m., Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St. Based on influential French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Carnival of the Animals,” and complemented with poetry originally added to the score by legendary American wordsmith Ogden Nash, the whole family is in for a distinctive, humorous and “heart-warming” performance. And free, no less. The local chamber group, formed more than a decade ago, is intent on immersing itself in and giving back to the community.
Mark Henderson / The Worcester Sun
Neighborhood Strings brings classical music to students who may not otherwise get the chance to try it.
Tuesday, March 7 — International Women’s Day with Maura Healey, 5:30-7 p.m., YWCA of Central Massachusetts, 1 Salem Square Trump bashing. Packing the war chest. Press conferences. Keeping her midrange jumper sharp. Where does the spunky, sporty and ubiquitous Maura Healey find the time to add anything to her calendar?
Worcester Railers HC searched high and low, east and west, and all across the city to find a home for its incoming crop of mostly young up-and-coming hockey players.
Conveniently enough, what team officials were looking for was right around the corner the whole time.
The Railers have agreed to lease five four-bedroom apartments at Edge at Union Station, according to team and property officials, to accommodate 20 players in anticipation of the start of the club’s inaugural minor league hockey season in October.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Michael Myers, Railers president. “It’s a perfect setup for us since they’re right there next to the [Worcester Ice Center].”
Courtesy Worcester Railers
An artist’s rendering of the planned Canal District dual hockey rink complex.
The Worcester Ice Center, which broke ground this past October, is a 100,000 square-foot facility — anchored by two full-size ice rinks and a full-service restaurant to be run by Niche Hospitality — and has been slated to open in August 2017. At the corner of Winter and Harding streets, it’s a short walk from the Edge.
The team, Myers told the Sun, leased the apartments at the Edge for one year to “test the waters and see how it is for [the Railers players].”
There’s so much value in old buildings, including economic value. New Sun contributor Joyce Mandell explores spots in Worcester that have benefited greatly from vision and preservation, rather than the wrecking ball. She believes Notre Dame des Canadiens Church downtown holds similar possibilities.
“I had grown up in the Pioneer Valley and was familiar with the hardships that cities like Lowell, Springfield and Worcester faced. After being away from Massachusetts the past few years, my wife and I came to Worcester to meet with the Railers, and we were hooked.” Find out more about what drew a young, small-town family to become certified fans of the Woo.
Sunday, Dec. 11 — Craftershock! 2016, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Seven Hills Foundation, 81 Hope Ave. This city has many things that make it distinct, unique even. Indeed we have a rich and proud history bursting at the seams with difference-makers of all shapes and sizes — from Goddard’s rockets to Ball’s smiley faces, from Abbey’s activism to Abbie’s activism. Now, for sure, roller derby couldn’t possibly provide the impact of, say, feverish abolitionism or advocacy of women’s rights, but Worcester Roller Derby is both a fascinating sporting endeavor and a home-away-from-home that provides an often important community for its members.
Clearly these are no one-dimensional ladies. And for the sixth year, WoRD is putting on its “alternative craft fair,” featuring more than 70 vendors (and free admission). Homemade jewelry, vintage goods, art and photography, gifts and more. You’re going to be out shopping anyway — plus why risk making these women angry?!
Wednesday, Dec. 14 — City Services Q&A, 3-4 p.m., 2nd Floor, Worcester Public Library, 3 Salem Square You’d think the city might want to make clear that they will not be taking questions about snow removal or taxes. This is, though, a pretty nifty service to have at your disposal — at least you can see all those rising tax dollars at work!