What is the Payoff of Worcester’s $14 Million Visitor Center?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Renewed plans for a visitor center along Route 146 represent a large, collaborative investment in the future of Worcester's Quinsigamond Village.

The Blackstone Gateway Park and Visitor Center, billed as a $14 million combined effort with support at the local, state, and federal level, was hailed by Congressman Jim McGovern as a “signature project” during Thursday's conference. Citing the tireless dedication of local residents, McGovern, who secured $5.5 million in federal funding, said he knew the project would “serve as a catalyst for future economic development.”

But how the project's success is benchmarked depends on who you ask.

What's the measure of success?

The center is set to include a welcome area and restrooms for travelers; exhibit, office, theater, and meeting space; and central regional offices of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

City Manager Ed Augustus said Thursday the project would enhance economic revitalization efforts in Quinsigamond Village while also serving as a destination point for residents and visitors.

“It's going to bring people into the neighborhood,” said city Councilor George Russell, including not only visitors but also state DCR employees and students from the College of the Holy Cross.

“The success will be measured by what impact it has on that neighborhood,” Russell said on Friday.

Worcester Regional Research Bureau Executive Director Timothy McGourthy offered a half-dozen future considerations for evaluating success, including visitor numbers, repeat visitors, and the extent of programming. “As a community location, how many individuals or organizations choose to hold events or other programs at the site?”

While the research bureau hasn't studied the project, McGourthy said it was safe to assume some level of “economic spinoff” benefiting the surrounding neighborhood and city from new and returning visitors.

Finally, “the project includes a significant amount of park land along the Blackstone River, and the preservation and maintenance of this land has a value,” McGourthy added.

Frank Conte, a policy analyst for the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, contended the main economic upshot of the project would be dependent on the effect on neighborhood housing prices and businesses. “One way it may be successful is if it increases demand around it,” Conte said, adding the quality of life impacts were harder to quantify.

In terms of development, Conte said an economist would factor the project's opportunity cost, or in other words, how else the funding might be used more efficiently. “It's not really an investment, in that it doesn't increase the productive capacity of the economy.”

“For economic development, the project doesn't have real economic value.”

Development impact: more than just jobs

While investments are often measured by specific indicators like job growth or leveraged dollars, the project in Worcester reflects a larger sphere of considerations covering environmental and quality of life concerns.

The envisioned visitor center has been scaled down from earlier plans after a 2010 fire destroyed the former factory building set to house the original project. The complete venture now includes complementary infrastructure including improvements to adjacent parks and a $1.5 million federally funded Quinsigamond Village Bikeway linking to the larger Blackstone River Bikeway.

Also included are sidewalk improvements along McKeon Road granting better access between the village proper and Holy Cross students.

All told, the project combines the efforts of the city, state conservation department, state and federal transportation officials, Holy Cross, and the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.

“It all works together,” Russell said. “If it's some kind of specific barometer, I can't point to that.”

But many in the community development field are eying such a barometer to measure projects outside of their financial bottom lines.

Planners at Portland State University and the University of Arizona are working on such a tool that consider more factors surrounding development investment.

Called the Triple Bottom Line Tool, the online calculator is designed to measure the impact of investments on not only economic vitality but natural resource stewardship and community well-being.

  • 13. Hampshire County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: -165
    Outbound Migration: 772
    Inbound Migration: 607

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 46
    Graduate or Professional Degree: -3

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 54
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): 5

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  • 11. Norfolk County (Tie)

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: -121
    Outbound Migration: 1,636
    Inbound Migration: 1,515

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 75
    Graduate or Professional Degree: -28

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): -51
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): -44

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  • 11. Franklin County (Tie)

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: -121
    Outbound Migration: 701
    Inbound Migration: 580

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: -30
    Graduate or Professional Degree: 22

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 4
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): -21

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  • 10. Barnstable County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 8
    Outbound Migration: 250
    Inbound Migration: 258

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: -47
    Graduate or Professional Degree: -25

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): -3
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): 22

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    click here.

     
  • 9. Nantucket County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 20
    Outbound Migration: 0
    Inbound Migration: 20

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: N/A
    Graduate or Professional Degree: N/A

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): N/A
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): N/A

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  • 8. Dukes County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 36
    Outbound Migration: 45
    Inbound Migration: 81

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: N/A
    Graduate or Professional Degree: N/A

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): N/A
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): N/A

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  • 7. Suffolk County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 165
    Outbound Migration: 1,407
    Inbound Migration: 1,242

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 143
    Graduate or Professional Degree: 106

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 105
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): 98

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  • 6. Bristol County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 197
    Outbound Migration: 567
    Inbound Migration: 764

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 139
    Graduate or Professional Degree: 7

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 40
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): 21

    For more migration pattern details, click here.

     
  • 5. Berkshire County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 207
    Outbound Migration: 71
    Inbound Migration: 278

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: -33
    Graduate or Professional Degree: -11

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 0
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): -14

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  • 4. Hampden County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 213
    Outbound Migration: 1,005
    Inbound Migration: 1,218

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 99
    Graduate or Professional Degree: -3

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 64
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): 29

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  • 3. Essex County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 360
    Outbound Migration: 479
    Inbound Migration: 839

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 112
    Graduate or Professional Degree: 65

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 115
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): 55

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  • 2. Plymouth County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 377
    Outbound Migration: 554
    Inbound Migration: 931

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 116
    Graduate or Professional Degree: 6

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 1
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): -23

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  • 1. Middlesex County

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 1,863
    Outbound Migration: 4,451
    Inbound Migration: 6,314

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 280
    Graduate or Professional Degree: 258

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 344
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): 129

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  • Worcester County Totals

    Migration Totals

    Net Migration: 2,709
    Outbound Migration: 11,938
    Inbound Migration: 14,647

    Net Migration by Education

    Bachelor's Degree: 900
    Graduate or Professional Degree: 394

    Net Migration by Income

    Household Income ($150,000 or more): 673
    Individual Income ($75,000 or more): 257

    For more migration pattern details, click here.