Community Spotlight: Ware
Ware Looks to Spark Economic Growth
By KEVIN FLANDERSFor eight years, the building at 13 Church St. stood vacant and dilapidated, an eyesore that most residents and town leaders assumed would be torn down.
But two town residents, Roc Goudreau and his friend, Chris DiMarzio, looked past the blight and the daunting challenge of rehabbing the 117-year-old former Methodist Church and saw something others didn’t: opportunity.
What they’ve created at that address is called Workshop13, a bustling cultural-arts and community center that has become not only a major resource, but also a source of inspiration for a town looking for a spark — or several sparks — in its downtown, and is starting to find them.
Indeed, the renovation of the Workshop13 building is just one example of a minor wave of development that has swept through town in recent years, said Town Manager Stuart Beckley.
“Ware can be a hub of activity and services for regional residents,” he told BusinessWest. “The more activity and the better the quality of activity and service, the more growth that will follow. Ware is working to be ready for that increase.”
Hoping to open up a new art school, Goudreau and DiMarzio purchased the 11,000-square-foot former church building in December 2012. After several months of renovations, including the installation of a new roof and chimney, as well as the additions of new doors, flooring, shelves, and lighting, Workshop13 opened in October 2013.
“I’m really glad we were able to save the building,” said Goudreau, who plans to renovate the exterior of the building next year. “It was a real mess when we first bought it, but we always said the place has good bones and structure.”
That phrase could be applied to the community’s downtown as a whole, and officials are looking to create momentum for more development there.
The Ware Business and Civic Assoc. (WBCA) has partnered with town officials to conduct a series of workshops to help gain insight into best practices for a planned revitalization of Ware’s downtown section. Funded by town grant monies, the workshops will be led by four people from throughout Massachusetts with experience in various revitalization strategies. Bill Braman, chairman of the WBCA, is excited about the ideas these individuals will bring to the table.
“They all have different backgrounds and approaches and experiences when it comes to revitalization, and we want to look into employing some of their strategies in Ware,” he said. “There have been a lot of great recent developments downtown, with a new restaurant being constructed a few years ago and Workshop13 opening. Now we’re looking to come together as a community in a coordinated effort to continue revitalizing that area.”
For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest puts the focus on Ware and the many signs of progress — and hope — in this Quaboag-region community.
Major Steps Forward
The progress at Workshop13 just scratches the surface of recent developments in Ware. A new Cumberland Farms convenience store will soon be constructed on Route 32, a project that has received site-plan approval from the Planning Board. The proposal will now be reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and representatives from Cumberland Farms hope to be open for business as early as the fall, said Karen Cullen, Ware’s director of Planning and Community Development.
Meanwhile, Seaboard Solar, of Danbury, Conn., received approval last year from the Planning Board to install a solar array on Gilbertville Road, which will be adjacent to a larger array the company is building in West Brookfield. Cullen said Seaboard Solar has submitted a building permit and is planning to get construction underway soon.
From a recreational perspective, Ware is taking major steps with the planned construction of a new section of its Rail Trail within the next 18 months. Selectman John Carroll said recently awarded grant monies from the Recreational Trails Program, as well as volunteer contributions, will allow for the construction of two new bridges and other work.
“Once this new section is finished, people will be able to go from Wal-Mart all the way down to Robbins Road,” covering a significant stretch of Route 32 in town, he said.
The new trail section and others expected to follow it will ultimately connect Ware to several other towns through larger regional trails — both existing and proposed — which would attract more people to the town and thereby generate increased revenue for businesses. “It is important to be connected to the larger region,” Beckley said.
But the transformation of 13 Church St. has been the visible and potentially impactful development in recent months.
“The total rehabilitation they did of the building was wonderful, a very exciting project in our town,” Carroll said. “They took a building that would have been demolished and completely renovated it. Whenever something like that happens, it’s big for the town.”
Cullen agreed. “They put a lot of money and work into it, preserving most of the original features of the building, and now it is a thriving arts center,” she said.
Workshop13 hosts several youth art programs and camps each week, including a spring vacation camp that introduced several youngsters to painting during their break from school. With an accomplished staff of artists, Goudreau is hoping to expand membership in the coming months.
“We have really great instructors here; all of them are professional artists, and right now we’re just looking to get the word out about this place so residents know about what we have to offer,” he said. “Some people who come in didn’t even know we were here.”
Another goal for Goudreau and his staff is to maximize the use of the property, which was built in 1897 and also served for a short time as a senior center. The building boasts stained-glass windows and expansive rooms, and Goudreau is contemplating adding a performance or dance component to his business. The upper rooms, he said, are also perfect for an exercise studio, and renting sections of the building is another viable option. Currently, one of the second-floor rooms serves as a makeshift art museum displaying creations of Workshop13 instructors.
“I really hope that one day this building will be a cultural hub for the town,” he said.
Winds of ChangeSeveral other businesses and organizations in town have been active over the last year with expansion or development plans. Officials at Baystate Health, which operates Baystate Mary Lane Hospital on South Street, has announced its intention to explore the acquisition of Wing Memorial Hospital in nearby Palmer from UMass Memorial Healthcare, and is nearing a decision on whether to proceed.
“Right now we’re in a process of due diligence to move toward a definitive decision,” said Ben Craft, Baystate Health’s director of Public Affairs. “We’re anticipating a decision by the summer, but Baystate Mary Lane Hospital will continue to operate normally and remain a key part of our strategy moving forward. It’s important that we maintain a strong presence in Ware.”
If the agreement is approved, Beckley said it could lead to opportunities for growth in town. Baystate Health operates several medical facilities in the region, including Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield.
The Quaboag Valley Business Assistance Corp., based in Ware, has also reported major developments of late. Officials with the QVBAC recently learned the corporation has been certified as a ‘community development finance institution’ by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.
“This certification will increase our access to financial and technical assistance from the CDFI fund and enhance our ability to raise funds from other donors,” said Sheila Cuddy, executive director of the QVBAC. “These funds support our work to increase economic opportunity for the 15 communities in our region.”
The QVBAC, a nonprofit organization, provides loans to small businesses that are not eligible for traditional bank financing.
Meanwhile, officials expressed hope that the planned workshops downtown will spark more development opportunities there.
In addition to exposing residents, town officials, and business owners to specific strategies, the workshops will also serve as a promotional mechanism for the revitalization plans, which will tie into the town’s ongoing formation of a master plan.
“This will create a vehicle to bring various businesses, large and small, together to focus on our priorities,” Braman added. “We’re hoping to get participation from throughout the community as we move forward to determine the best approaches for revitalization.”
At the conclusion of the workshops, Beckley said the town will assist Ware Business and Civic Assoc. members with deciding how they wish to move forward.
Ware It’s At
Overall, town officials are encouraged by the growth that has taken place in recent years, in addition to developments that still may occur.
Even in a tepid economy that has caused many communities to stagnate in terms of development, Ware residents and business owners have found a way to effect positive change and gain momentum.
“All of these activities show the commitment of town and business leaders to growth,” Beckley said, “both residential and commercial.”
Ware at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 9,872 (2010); 9,707 (2000)
Area: 40.0 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: 18.31
Commercial Tax Rate: 18.31
Median Household Income: $36,875
Family Household Income: $45,505
Type of Government: Open town meeting
Largest Employers: Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, Wal-Mart, Big Y, Country Bank, Kanzaki Specialty Papers, Town of Ware
* Latest information available