By Sue Ellen Woodcock
It’s been a topic of conversation for years and now it looks like reviving the center business district is once again on the table.
Precinct 5 Councilor Russ Sanford and Joe Domelowicz, grants administrator and town planner, held a question and answer sessions at the E.B. Newton building on Pleasant Street last Thursday night, and again Monday morning at the Center Café.
The goal is to breathe new life into the town center and the soon to be vacant Winthrop Middle/High School on Pauline Street.
Thursday night Domelowicz wanted to end the rumors about eminent domain and existing plans and let people know that right now there is no plan for the center or the school. What is certain is that the town is looking to create a nine-member committee to work on plans for the center and the school.
“There is nothing begun yet but the town did receive an Urban Agenda Planning Grant,” Domelowicz said. “The planning will come through you.”
The plan will include parking, transportation, how to help developers, and how to retain businesses.
The middle/high school building on Pauline Street will be turned over to the town in September when students will be moved to the new middle/high school.
“We’re here to listen,” Sanford said.
There are concerns about parking on Somerset and concerns about empty buildings. A Woodside Road resident also said parking gets so tight on her street that a fire truck can’t get though in the snow. Others expressed how overflow parking from the center was creeping into their neighborhoods.
“We need to look at the entire area,” said Barbara Harrison, of Woodside Road.
Businessman Paul DeGregorio suggested the parking area at the soon to be old school and a placed to be used for Center parking.
Besides business owners and residents, several other officials also attended the meeting, including Precinct 4 Councilor Heather Engman, former town council president Peter Gill, Chamber of Commerce Director Betsy Shane, fire chief Paul Flanagan and Town Manager James McKenna.
Library Trustee Gillian Texteria, mother of two boys, said she would like to see more things in the center for kids and family. While the restaurants in town are great, there is not really one for families and kids.
Another resident said she didn’t want to see the center get too modern or two big.
Planning Board member Robert Carroll said that its important to realize that the center needs more rules about density, height, balance, parking, etc.
“Whatever we do will have to get a consensus,” McKenna said, adding that the town has been working with the Collins Center. He also pointed out that over 900 jobs have been lost in Winthrop over the years.
McKenna also pointed out that $206 million in retail leaves Winthrop each year.
“You have to leave town to get what you need.” McKenna said.
So far Winthrop has a $50,000 to use toward planning. Also on board for the project are MassDevelopment, and Jay Ash from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.
“The challenge is not small,” McKenna said. “Winthrop is a diamond in the rough.”
Domelowicz said there will be public meetings with the Planning Board and the soon to be formed Citizen Advisory and Economic Development Committee.
“We have an opportunity to put a Master Plan together,” Sanford said.
Anyone interested in serving on the committee should contact the Town Council. The committee is expected to be formed in middle to late March.