Buoyed by an aggressive tax relief plan that helped propel the planned expansion of a longstanding company and potential deals for two other parcels of land, the South Worcester Industrial Park, which has for years stood as eight acres of mostly unfulfilled potential, is gaining momentum.
“The amount of progress that’s been made in the last three or four years has been huge,” Ronald Charette, executive director of South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corporation, said. “Now we’re making a huge step forward.”
Absolute Machinery, headquartered at 92 Gardner St., with a facility next door at 57 Southgate St., plans to purchase 25,000 square feet (a little more than half an acre) of abutting land for an expansion that will keep the plastics manufacturing machinery supplier from leaving the city, pending the expected approval later this month of a 10-year tax increment financing [TIF] pact.
“Anytime we can retain a business it’s a good thing, and in this case we not only kept Absolute in Worcester, we enabled them to expand their operations,” city Chief Development Officer Michael E. Traynor said in an email. “The portion of the ownership team based outside of Worcester had proposed that Absolute relocate to Ohio or North Carolina.”
The relief agreement is expected to allow Absolute Machinery to retain 30 jobs in the city and add a minimum of six full-time positions over the next three years. Per the TIF, the company is obligated to “use best efforts” to hire at least half its contractors and subcontractors from companies within 30 miles of the facility.
“It was important that we could reach agreement with them to convey the SWIP property, which also gave them access to the approved TIF schedule. Absolute will remain in Worcester, expand its operations and create new jobs and increase the city’s tax base,” Traynor said.
Wind turbine manufacturer Universal Wind Power is working with the city to purchase 1.8 acres of land, according to the Executive Office of Economic Development’s quarterly update, that could be the site of a 45,000-square-foot facility at 25 Southgate St. in the heart of the park’s acreage.
Traynor also confirmed the city has been working with a developer it would not name on a deal for 49 Canterbury St., a parcel which could hold up to a 40,000-square-foot building.
South Worcester Industrial Park consists of 11 acres of brownfield land, of which the city owns 8 acres divided into seven parcels. A for-sale sign stands at the corner of Southbridge and Southgate streets, the eastern edge of the site, advertising the remaining four properties.
“We’ve really picked up some steam. The neighborhood is really excited,” said District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera, who pointed to the city’s retrenched marketing efforts, particularly of the tax relief plan it shaped specifically for the area, as critical.
“There’s a renewed sense of importance on the South Worcester Industrial Park. For a long time this was a neighborhood that was disinvested and ignored and it’s come back into the spotlight,” Charette said.
The City Council approved the TIF for O&S Realty LLC, owners of Absolute Machinery, Feb. 2 for the company’s 13,500-square-foot expansion onto 33 Southgate St., and approved a zoning change to allow the expansion.
“The TIF is definitely something that has drawn people in. It’s the carrot,” Rivera said.
Absolute Machinery’s proposed expansion project is expected to increase the total assessed value of the properties from $1,016,500 to $1,375,000, according to the city.
Based on a mandate approved by City Council in April 2013 that accounts for facility size and the number of jobs to be created, the tax relief plan is for 10 years with an incremental annual 50 percent property tax exemption. Over that decade, the city is expected to receive $425,000 in tax revenue.
After 10 years, the city says it is projected to receive about $55,000 annually in property taxes from the parcel.
“The TIF plan helps. With [Absolute Machinery] being the catalyst and them being there goes to show that if [the TIF plan] is what was needed to make it happen, then I think we hit a home run,” said District 1 Councilor Anthony J. Economou, chairman of the Standing Committee on Economic Development.
According to the city’s quarterly report, the TIF is expected to be approved by the state on March 22.
“The area had been dormant. It was like it was on life support,” Rivera said. “We’re the second-largest city in New England. We’re very central. And we have all of this available labor here. I wanted to make this a priority.”
“The potential of bringing new jobs into the neighborhood and the community is a resurgence,” Charette said. “It encourages homeowners to fix up and rent out property in a better quality way, and encourages new people to move into the neighborhood and stimulates a lot of the small businesses in the area.”
While the city spent $8 million on site cleanup and remediation, Economou said Absolute Machinery has also been an integral part of getting the industrial park ready for prime time.
“Talk about a business that has taken ownership of a neighborhood, not just locating there and expanding there, but even in their stewardship of the neighborhood.”
A representative from Absolute Machinery, which was founded in 2000 and has been in South Worcester since 2006, said the land it purchased from the city is being cleared and the company is preparing for new construction. President Nathan Smith was unavailable for comment.
Universal Wind Power would not comment about its plans in the city due to ongoing negotiations, according to company CEO Rafael Mayor, though its website refers to its location as “currently moving to Worcester, MA.” [Editor’s note: Mayor did, however, have plenty to say to WoMag in October.]
“The interest in the city right now is tremendous,” Economou said. “It’s not surprising to me that this momentum is taking place [at SWIP]. It’s going to revitalize that neighborhood. It elevates everyone’s pride in what they have and what they own.”
“We now have commercial realtors looking at the parcels the city has and when they get any kind of interest from a potential business or industry there, they’re quick to show it. And that’s a great thing. It’s a good start,” Charette said.
According to Traynor, there are a few other inquiries regarding the other parcels in the park, but his office will not reveal the names of the companies.
“Part of our strategy has been to tackle advertising, and from there so much has changed. We have this great space here, but what good is it if no one knows it’s there? We’re not just competing nationally, we’re competing globally. Now all of a sudden, the city is fielding phone calls about these properties in south Worcester,” Rivera said.
“It isn’t just good for District 4. It’s good for the whole city because we’re increasing our workforce and economic ability.”