Redevelopment Authority strategizes for future growth

May 31, 2019

After studying Wareham’s economic present and future, the Redevelopment Authority sees some problems and many opportunities.

The Redevelopment Authority, established at the Spring 2017 Town Meeting and approved by state legislators, is an entity that is independent from the town government that works to develop and bring jobs to Wareham.

Richard Swenson, a member-at-large of the Authority, presented the Economic Development Strategy, created by FXM Associates of Mattapoisett. The presentation included a study of economic and demographic data about the town alongside forecasts about the town’s future and strategic recommendations.

While Wareham is behind the county and state in wages, income, post-secondary education, and housing values, the town is above average in population growth, job growth, and household growth. Many other indicators are slowly growing.

Wareham’s population grew by 6 percent from 2010 to 2017, when the population was about 21,000 people, and is expected to grow another 5 percent by 2022, when the population is projected to be about 22,000 people. The population of people between the ages of 55 and 74 is expected to grow significantly in the next few years.

Challenges that are limiting growth are a lack of industrial space, mid- to high-end rental housing, mixed-use spaces, and mid- to high-end employment opportunities. The town also has a number of derelict and eyesore properties.

The values of owner-occupied homes are about a third lower in Wareham than the median value of owner-occupied homes in the county and state. While the values of homes in Wareham are growing faster than those across the county and state, there are still twice as many homes in town with values less than $100,000 and half as many valued over $400,000.

Wages in Wareham are 20 percent lower than the average in the county and 40 percent lower than the state — a difference which can be partially attributed to the fact that a high percentage of jobs in Wareham are in lower-paying fields like retail, accommodations, and food services. Wages also lag behind the state across industries, although that disparity is shrinking.

Job growth in town is far better than across the state, however, as Wareham saw a 24 percent increase in the number of jobs from 2006 to 2016, compared to 14 percent for Plymouth County and 15 percent for the state overall.

Looking forward, the report includes types of real estate that are in demand. Office space, especially “class A” or premium office space, is a hot commodity, as are shared office spaces. Industrial space is in high demand, but the total space in town is not growing, and rents are too low to support new construction. Flex space, defined as space adaptable for light manufacturing, distribution, and laboratory use, is also in demand.

The demand for retail space is steady, but there is a low vacancy rate of actively marketed spaces and spaces that are move-in ready.

The demand for rental housing is growing, especially among people under 35 and between 55 and 75. Wareham vacancy rates are declining, and rents are going up. The average rent in Wareham is $1,477, and inventory isn’t meeting demand. According to FXM’s analysis, there is a significant lack of mid-to high-end apartments, which are in line with what is profitable for developers.

The report identifies four areas that present opportunities for redevelopment: Wareham Village, Onset Village, industrial space, and the commercial strips on Rte. 6 and Rte. 28.

In Wareham Village, the Authority could work on re-zoning to allow for higher density and height allowances, clean up derelict buildings and empty lots, and work on parking. Swenson suggested that buildings that combine retail, residential, and office uses could be a good opportunity for downtown. Eventually, Swenson said the authority wants to make the village into a destination, in conjunction with the Tremont Nail Factory.

In the industrial parks, there are opportunities to update existing parks and extend utilities and sewer, and to promote Kendrick Road as a food destination. The many highways that intersect in Wareham are a great opportunity, Swenson said.

“In today’s economy, customers want two things: They want cheap prices, and they want the product quickly. And the way they get their product quickly is through the new distribution center model that everybody’s seeing,” Swenson said. “Wareham is at a prime point to be that distribution center.”

In the commercial areas, zoning and beautification should be the main goals.

In Onset, the RDA is planning to work with and support the work of the Onset Bay Association, as well as working on derelict buildings and infrastructure.

Across the four districts highlighted, rezoning and cleaning up derelict properties are high priorities for the Authority.

Currently, the authority is working on bringing businesses to the Tremont Nail Factory, assessing the possibilities for housing developments on Littleton Drive, selling land to Bay Pointe Country Club, and renting out 4 Recovery Rd.

The presentation, with time for public questions and comments, will be held again at 10 a.m. on Saturday in the auditorium at Town Hall.