Planning Board OKs site plan for redevelopment of former Boys Club at Lincoln Square – Worcester Telegram

WORCESTER—The Planning Board Wednesday approved a site plan for the redevelopment of the former Boys Club building at Lincoln Square. 

The unanimous vote paves the way for WinnDevelopment Co. to start work on restoring the historic downtown landmark and building an innovative addition that will sit on a “podium” over the Johnson Tunnel. 

Michael V. O’Brien, former city manager and an executive vice president at Winn, said the goal is to begin construction by the end of 2022 or early in 2023. 

John J. Spillane, a lawyer representing Winn at the site plan review hearing Wednesday, said the proposed adaptive reuse of the building will result in 80 residential apartments aimed at the city’s over-55 population; 16 apartments will be built in the old Boys Club structure, while 64 apartments – a combination of studios and one and two-bedroom units – will be built in the new structure, which will be built next to the old building over an abandoned section of Prescott Street. A two-story glass structure will connect the two buildings. The new addition is what makes the project financially viable, he said. 

What Winn presented to the Planning Board Wednesday was slightly smaller than the approximately 95-unit concept officials announced earlier this year. But Spillane said the project will retain an affordability component; he said it will be 85% affordable to residents with incomes ranging from 30% of area median income to 60% of area median income.  The remaining 15% of the units will be offered at market rates. 

O’Brien said he was proud of the project’s partnership with Preservation Worcester, and said the grand old building will be renovated with sensitivity to historic preservation. He said public spaces in the old building will be available for community use, and he said Winn will improve and maintain the World War I memorial in front of the building. 

Richard Whitehouse of VHB, an engineer on the project, said the podium construction of the new addition will essentially sit on concrete columns that will straddle the walls of the Johnson Tunnel. The quirky downtown feature will remain a city street, but will be slightly narrowed due to protective barriers that will be necessary to protect the columns, Whitehouse said. 

Stephen S. Rolle, the city’s assistant chief development officer, said the city is excited for the project start to move forward – he said it’s an important building in an important location that links several different areas. He said the addition is smartly using space that would otherwise be wasted, and he said the new building “doesn’t try to pretend to be the old building – it distinguishes itself.”

There were some minor concerns about traffic flow and sidewalk placement, but Planning Board members said they were glad to see affordable senior housing finally come downtown, and were happy to see the old building get new life. 

Earlier this year, the company agreed to pay the city $100,000 for the “air rights” over Prescott Street and the tunnel. 

Winn bought the more-than-90-year-old, 48,000 square-foot property from the city in 2019 for $300,000, and initially planned to lease the building to a school for highly-functioning autistic students.