Clark University and the Main South Community Development Corporation: A 30-Year Partnership for Neighborhood Revitalization in Worcester
On August 11, 2016, Clark University president David Angel presided over the opening of the Alumni and Student Engagement Center, the newest building at the 130-year-old liberal arts university, which has nearly 3,300 students and 200 full-time faculty. The building symbolizes Clark’s commitment to community engagement with the Main South neighborhood in the former industrial city of Worcester, Massachusetts. The building also houses university offices that coordinate the resources of neighbors, faculty, students, and alumni to improve quality of life in the neighborhood. The center represents the latest aspect of an evolving relationship between the university and the community, which has gone from addressing town-gown issues to forming a community development corporation and establishing an ongoing partnership promoting revitalization efforts that benefit both Clark and Main South.
Early Revitalization Efforts
The second-largest city in Massachusetts, Worcester thrived until the 1950s, when factory closures, falling incomes, and rising crime began afflicting its culturally diverse neighborhoods. Clark University is located in the heart of one of those neighborhoods, Main South, a low- and moderate-income community in southern Worcester. The neighborhood had a tense relationship with the university; it considered the school to be unresponsive to complaints about noise, overparking, and high rents generated by students living in Main South’s Victorian houses and triple-decker apartments. Soon after being appointed president of the university in 1984, Richard Traina took steps to address community concerns that created a new sense of trust between residents and the institution. Community members and university representatives formed a working group to draft a strategy for Main South’s revitalization, which led to the creation of the Main South Community Development Corporation (MSCDC) to implement the strategy and promote residents’ continuing participation.
MSCDC was founded in 1986 with the mission to improve physical conditions in the neighborhood; encourage the development of economic opportunities; and provide safe, affordable housing. In the early years, Clark provided gap financing for MSCDC to acquire properties for rehabilitation and infill development. Between 1986 and 1995, MSCDC spent $10.2 million to purchase and rehabilitate 175 housing units on 31 properties and made additional investments in 5 commercial properties. As significant as these physical improvements were, MSCDC decided that such efforts alone would not create the community that Main South residents wanted.
University Park Partnership
To expand its scope beyond physical improvements to include safety, recreation, and education, MSCDC joined Clark to establish the University Park Partnership (UPP) in 1995. According to a plan for the partnership drafted that year, Clark University would be “committed to acting aggressively while listening carefully enough to ensure that [the] interests of all stakeholders are appropriately reflected.” The partnership obtained a $2.4 million HUD Joint Community Development Grant that leveraged more than $11 million from private investors for redevelopment and programs. This work included a small-business loan program, and MSCDC opened its Center for Community Revitalization, where residents get help with job searches, take computer classes, and receive other job training. Public safety increased with additional patrols by city and university police as well as additional support for neighborhood watch groups. UPP’s educational programs have included adult education, free classes for high school students seeking dual secondary and college credits, and a university program that has provided free attendance at Clark worth $12 million in tuition to 101 students from Main South, as well as the founding of the University Park Campus School (UPCS).
UPCS, which is one block from Clark University, opened in 1997. The university, through UPP and Worcester Public Schools, created the school to prepare every student for college. All of the school’s approximately 230 students in grades 7 through 12 live near University Park in Main South; 75 percent of students receive free or reduced-priced lunch, 65 percent speak English as a second language, and 60 percent are students of color. With a per-pupil budget similar to that of other schools, UPCS relies on “an exceptional school culture and academic program that refuses to let any student fail to achieve high standards.” The school focuses its efforts on bringing seventh and eighth graders up to grade level in math, reading, and writing while developing analytical thinking skills. All classes at the high school level are honors courses, and few electives are offered at UPCS; juniors and seniors can take free classes at Clark that meet their special interests. Student dropout and mobility rates are almost zero, and nearly all UPCS graduates attend two- or four-year colleges. To achieve this level of success, Clark provides numerous on-campus experiences for UPCS students and professional development opportunities for teachers. The school also serves as a learning laboratory for education majors at Clark.
Strategic Revitalization Programs
As UPP expanded to include social and economic programs, MSCDC also implemented a new, ambitious redevelopment strategy. MSCDC moved from a scattered-site approach to a concentrated redevelopment effort in order to increase its impact on one of the neighborhood’s most troubled streets. In 2000, MSCDC completed the project, which involved acquiring 4 vacant lots, renovating 4 blighted buildings containing 25 housing units, and constructing 3 new buildings containing 9 affordable housing units. MSCDC immediately began an even larger effort, the Kilby-Gardner-Hammond (KGH) revitalization project. MSCDC, as the lead agency, joined Clark University, the city of Worcester, and the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester in a $32 million redevelopment effort covering 30 acres. The project constructed and renovated 129 affordable and energy-efficient housing units for first-time homebuyers and renters. Grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency helped assess and remediate a 7.8-acre property. A portion of the site was used for a Boys & Girls Club facility that accommodates 400 children and includes a pool, 2 basketball courts, fitness equipment, and a learning center. On approximately five acres of the property, Clark University constructed track and field facilities that it shares with the club.
Even before the KGH revitalization project was completed in 2016, MSCDC, with the support of a HUD Sustainable Communities Challenge Planning Grant, began efforts to revitalize an industrial site adjacent to the Boys & Girls Club. MSCDC purchased and then sold a vacant mill building to The Community Builders. In 2015, the new owner renovated the 120,000-square-foot building to create the Lofts at Loomworks, containing 75 apartments affordable to households earning 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) and 19 units affordable to those earning 30 percent of AMI. Most of the funding for the $27 million project came from MassHousing and a combination of 9 percent low-income housing tax credits and historic tax credits.
Revitalization Efforts After 30 Years
With the experience gained in the KGH revitalization project, Clark University and MSCDC have begun planning their next redevelopment effort, concentrated in University Park North adjacent to the KGH project and directly across South Main Street from the university campus. MSCDC will administer and implement the project. Clark will help identify key distressed properties and funding options, which will include resources to acquire and hold properties until they can be redeveloped. MSCDC and the university expect they will need to create a $2.5 million loan pool to purchase approximately 10 triple-deckers. In addition, MSCDC anticipates that additional funding will be needed for emergency repairs, maintenance, and other carrying costs until the properties can be rehabilitated. Options for funding sources include community development block grant funds from the city of Worcester and community investment tax credits purchased by Clark alumni. Clark has already made a physical contribution to the project with the construction of the $23 million Alumni and Student Engagement Center in the neighborhood on South Main Street.
As work on the University Park North project continues, both the university and MSCDC look forward to extending the mutual benefits that have resulted from their 30-year partnership. According to MSCDC executive director Steve Teasdale, his organization will ensure that neighborhood residents benefit from every project his organization sponsors. For Jack Foley, Clark’s vice president for government and community affairs, the university’s partnership with MSCDC has stabilized the Main South neighborhood, engendered a sense of value and mission for the university, and created volunteer opportunities for students. These joint efforts have led to the construction or rehabilitation of 352 housing units at a cost $45 million, and approximately $10 million in grants has been invested in nonhousing programs. This successful relationship has become a model partnership, and representatives from more than 100 universities and colleges have visited Clark and Main South.
Jim Keogh. 2016. “Clark University reaches high with new building,” ClarkNow, 12 August. Accessed 1 November 2016; Clark University. n.d. “Fast Facts.” Accessed 17 May 2017; Clark University. n.d. “Worcester: The heart of New England.” Accessed 1 November 2016; Main South Community Development Corporation. 2015. “Historical Perspective.” Accessed 1 November 2016; Main South Community Development Corporation. n.d. “Mission Statement.” Accessed 4 November 2016.×
Clark University. n.d. “Worcester: The heart of New England.” Accessed 1 November 2016; Clark University. n.d. “Community Engagement and Volunteering: History of Main South.” Accessed 28 October 2016; Main South Community Development Corporation. 2015. “Historical Perspective.” Accessed 1 November 2016.×
Main South Community Development Corporation. n.d. “Mission Statement.” Accessed 4 November 2016; Interview with Steve Teasdale, executive director, Main South Community Development Corporation, 27 March 2017; Main South Community Development Corporation. 2015. “Historical Perspective.” Accessed 1 November 2016; Correspondence from Steve Teasdale, executive director, Main South Community Development Corporation, 25 May 2017.×
Main South Community Development Corporation. 2015. “Historical Perspective.” Accessed 1 November 2016; Document provided by Jack Foley, vice president for government and community affairs, Clark University; Main South Community Development Corporation. 2015. “Workforce Development.” Accessed 2 November 2016; Main South Community Development Corporation. 2015. “University Partnership.” Accessed 2 November 2016; Clark University. n.d. “University Park Partnership Accomplishments and Initiatives.” Accessed 19 October 2016; Document provided by Jack Foley, vice president for government and community affairs, Clark University.×
Jobs for the Future. n.d. “University Park Campus School: An Unparalleled Record of Achievement.” Accessed 29 November 2016; Document provided by Jack Foley, vice president for government and community affairs, Clark University; Interview with Jack Foley, 18 March 2017.×
Main South Community Development Corporation. 2015. “Historical Perspective.” Accessed 1 November 2016; Clark University. n.d. “Community Engagement and Volunteering: University Park Overview.” Accessed 28 October 2016; Interview with Steve Teasdale, executive director, Main South Community Development Corporation, 27 March 2017; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2008. “Worcester, MA: Expanding Markets and Revitalizing Communities.” Accessed 19 October 2016; Boys & Girls Club of Worcester. n.d. “Francis A. & Jacquelyn H. Harrington Clubhouse.” Accessed 2 December 2016; Correspondence from Steve Teasdale, executive director, Main South Community Development Corporation, 25 May 2017.×
Office of Congressman Jim McGovern. 2016. “McGovern Joins Opening of New Kilby-Gardner-Hammond Athletic Field and Track,” press release, 13 October. Accessed 2 December 2016; City of Worcester. 2016. “Economic Development Initiatives Detail Report,” Quarterly Report, 3 March. Accessed 2 December 2016; The Life Initiative. n.d. “Main South CDC.” Accessed 19 October 2016; Tom Farmer. 2014. “Ground broken for Worcester Loomworks,” MassHousing Update, August. Accessed 4 November 2016; Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency. 2014. “Abandoned Worcester Factory to be Converted into 94 Affordable Apartments with $17 Million in MassHousing Loans,” press release, 15 August. Accessed 4 November 2016; Donna Kimura. 2016. “Massachusetts Development Weaves History and Housing,” Affordable Housing Finance, 1 July. Accessed 4 November 2016; Correspondence from Steve Teasdale, executive director, Main South Community Development Corporation, 25 May 2017.×
Document provided by Steve Teasdale, executive director, Main South Community Development Corporation; Interview with Jack Foley, vice president for government and community affairs, Clark University, 18 March 2017.×
Interview with Steve Teasdale, 27 March 2017; Interview with Jack Foley, 18 March 2017; Document provided by Jack Foley.×