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$3 Million Grant Passed for Worcester Economy, Tourism

Friday, August 03, 2012

 

A prototype of the type of signage planned for the city's future.

The state House and Senate have passed a bill that would give Worcester's tourism, marketing, and economic growth a $3 million push.

All that’s left to seal the deal for Worcester’s businesses is the signature of Mass Governor Deval Patrick. The bond bill attached to the transportation bill will supply the city with funds to help promote businesses across the city.

“There have been several cultural organizations, city conventions, and all the colleges have been working very hard over the last seven years to make this happen,” said Erin Williams, Cultural Development Officer for the city of Worcester. “It will guide people through the city in a colorful way and will also incorporate public art, moving people through the city in ways to various places in the city’s nine districts. From there you can easily find your destination. The project also includes public art, and will be telling a story of Worcester visually and geographically.”

With so much time and effort put into making this project a reality, the city and its businesses are thrilled to finally have it in sight.

Worcester Isn’t an ‘Intuitive’ City

Worcester’s EcoTarium is one of the city’s highlights, serving as a year-round source of education and entertainment. Unfortunately, this site is an example of how Worcester’s cultural beacons are not always easy to find either for visitors or for those who have lived here for years.

“Worcester is not necessarily an intuitive city in terms of finding your way around. We look at this as a vital system to connect the cultural centers in Worcester,” said President of the EcoTarium, Stephen Pitcher.

Pitcher sees this initiative as a way to bring tourism and visitors to the city for all reasons, and he also believes this will help put the EcoTarium – literally – on the map.

“We’ve been working on it for many years now and we’re so happy to see some action is finally being taken to move this forward,” he said. “I’ve lived here for many years and it’s just not an intuitive city. Tourists have difficulty and even for Worcester residents it can be challenging. I hear it all the time from people who have been living here for years: ‘Oh, the EcoTarium, I’ve heard of it, but where is it exactly?’” he said.

The Plan to Promote Worcester’s Highlights

The Wayfinding Initiative includes public information kiosks, signage, and an overall cohesive plan to solidify Worcester’s commercial and business strengths. There are also plans to include public art and signs for historical sites.

The venture is a public-private partnership between the City of Worcester and its business, higher education and cultural communities, to both bring in new visitors and give them a tour of Worcester’s achievements and rich cultural history.

What it Means for the City’s Future

Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury) said that besides the physical appearance of the Wayfinding Initiative, the plan will show a deeper investment in Worcester’s businesses, which will be critical in pulling the city out of recent economic downturns.

“The legislature needs to act in collaboration with cities and towns to help them expand their economic opportunities, especially in the time of what’s been called the Great Recession,” he said. “Worcester has a lot of great cultural and historical sites.”

Moore said that there are 3.5 million visitors coming to the city each year, and it only makes sense for the city to do more to promote that tourism and development.

“Some of these locations that people may come to see in the city are spread out,” Moore said. “We don’t have one historical or cultural district. Having them spread out through the city, it makes sense to have some well-highlighted wayfinding systems can help hopefully increase tourism and therefore the local economy.”

Dividing the City

While Worcester has been criticized for having a difficult layout, the city’s Cultural Commission made the decision that dividing the city is the best way to tackle the problem.

“The Wayfinding project will be there to guide people through the city and help people navigate the city’s districts,” Williams said. The project will break down the city into Washington Square, Salisbury, Canal, Downtown, Shrewsbury Street, Main South, Elm Park and South Worcester with various cultural and public destination points linked to each district.

The EcoTarium’s President, who was also highly involved in the project said that directing people to sections of the city will help people locate what they want.

“A good part of our visitors come from Natick West,” Pitcher said. “As they enter Worcester currently, there’s no official way to get people and show them through the different cultural districts. For example, the best way to get to the EcoTarium is via Belmont Street, but people are not aware of that.”

Small Businesses are Still King

Moore said that this push shows that small businesses are the key to helping Central Mass overcome the recession.

“When it helps the local economy it’s the small local businesses that it’s helping. Everyone thinks of big manufacturing when they think of pushing jobs, but 86 percent of economy is small business,” he said. “So if we’re going to continue the recovery, we need to continue that investment.”

Moore said that this is adding with other projects to bring Worcester a strong future.

“If you look at everything that has been going on in the last four years and development, there are significant investments here, and as the economy improves, it will pay off,” he said. “I think it’s important to focus on the local economy. This is an investment in local infrastructure.”

 

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