A new vision for Wareham Village
The Redevelopment Authority met with a developer on Monday to imagine possibilities for the future of Wareham Village: New businesses, mixed-use buildings, and a boardwalk.
Colin Geoffroy, the President and CEO of G Hospitality, along with his father Vincent Geoffroy, have extensive experience in redeveloping neighborhoods, including downtown Providence, by managing real estate and other businesses to create the “critical mass of activity” needed to jump-start the revitalization of the district.
“It seems like there’s opportunity for some sort of transformation,” said Colin Geoffroy, who has read the town’s economic development plan and slum and blight study, and toured the village with Town Planner Kenneth Buckland.
“When I was a kid, that was where you went to do things,” said Selectman Peter Teitelbaum, who remembered when Main Street was home to a department store, grocery store. “Ninety percent of what you did in this town was right there.”
Over the years, many of the shops and services that drew people to the Village have moved to plazas and other areas of town.
Geoffroy said that it is “very clear” from the reports that there is an opportunity for more residential and office spaces in the Village, especially if the density is increased. For that to work, though, there needs to be something drawing people to the district.
“What’s that hook, or those hooks, that get people to think of the area differently?” asked Geoffroy.
Buckland brought up a boardwalk, first proposed in 2013, that could eventually connect Tremont Nail to Besse Park along the Wareham River, although there may be permitting issues in relation to conservation bylaws.
“People still want to get together,” said Vincent Geoffroy. “If you’re going to have any future development, it seems to me that charm is one of the guiding adjectives.”
Geoffroy also emphasized the need to have a variety of activities and support from the town. Colin Geoffroy added that ideally, the district would be a destination not only for residents of the town, but for everyone within about a half hour of Wareham.
The board and developers identified a number of the district’s strengths: The waterfront views, the nearby intersection of major highways, the Cape Flyer, and the fact that it is already a fairly nice place to walk around, as opposed to a blighted industrial area. Colin Geoffroy said that the economic trends identified in reports are good and would seem to support development. Tobey Hospital also plans to add a new gazebo to Besse Park, and the town is considering scattering some Adirondack chairs throughout the park.
Challenges for the area are parking, vacant storefronts, a blighted building, and the perceptions of townspeople, officials, and building owners, all of whom can be skeptical or slow to embrace change.
“I find this community to be unique in the way that they have been accepting of development and redevelopment when it makes sense, and I haven’t had the same kind of NIMBY response that I’ve had in other communities,” said Buckland, who was optimistic about the community’s response.
The group had several ideas to increase the amount of available parking. Selectman Mary Bruce suggested making both Main Street and Merchants Way (which is town-owned property) into one way streets to add more diagonal parking spaces. Selectman Peter Teitelbaum said that as buildings between Merchants Way and Main Street are renovated or replaced, building owners might decide to raise them up one story to allow for parking underneath and protect the building itself from the flooding that might occur during a hurricane. Buckland said that the town had commissioned a parking study which showed plenty of spots, and Colin Geoffroy said that a shuttle or trolley service could be used to bring people into the village from further away lots.
The group also talked about zoning, and agreed that some zoning changes, which need to be approved by ⅔ of Town Meeting voters, would likely be necessary. However, it is unlikely that any zoning proposals would be ready by this fall’s Town Meeting.
Colin Geoffroy said that he would be interested in continuing to talk with town officials and discussing possibilities for the district.