Worcester Boys Club Building Redevelopment Breaks Ground

Project brings affordable senior housing to downtown Worcester, restores a landmark.

November 29, 2023

Rendering of a multi-story building.

Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities Ed Augustus, WinnCompanies executives, VHB team members, and other state and local officials gathered November 2 to celebrate a Worcester success story—the future transformation of the historic Worcester Boys Club building into affordable apartments for adults 55 and older.

Built in 1929, the iconic 16 Salisbury Street property anchored the once buzzing Lincoln Square, serving city youth as a community center and then as a vocational high school. As redevelopment revived the neighborhood, the building languished vacant from 2006 until WinnDevelopment bought it in 2019. Beyond saving a treasured landmark, this $52 million adaptive reuse project advances Worcester’s goal of a diversity of residents participating in the City’s resurgence.

In its new incarnation as the downtown area’s first designated senior housing, the development will offer 80 affordable apartment homes, 16 housed in the original four-story, 48,000-square-foot building and 64 in an adjoining new 63,000-square-foot building. Eleven of the apartments will be reserved for residents with disabilities. Sixty-eight units will be priced for residents who earn up to 60 percent of the area median income and 12 for those who earn up to 30 percent the area median income.

Once part of a trio of neglected buildings creating a formidable barrier to downtown access that Worcester’s former City Manager dubbed the “Berlin Wall,” the development will help reactivate the gateway to the fast-rebounding Salisbury Street cultural district. Along with walking access to area attractions and public transit, residents will enjoy state-of-the art amenities, including library reading rooms and a fitness center.

“We’re pleased to be moving forward with this development after persevering through a variety of challenges over the years,” said WinnCompanies CEO Gilbert Winn via BLDUP. “By combining our adaptive reuse and new construction expertise, this project will give new life to a magnificent historic building, provide much-needed senior housing in a great location, and reinvigorate a key gateway to Worcester’s downtown.”

For years, developers had passed on the Boys Club redevelopment, deeming it a poor investment because of its small 0.35-acre footprint and lack of parking. Drawing on VHB’s engineering acumen and their joint success in repurposing the adjacent Voke Lofts site, WinnDevelopment took a creative approach to the new addition that makes the project economically viable. The developer obtained air rights above the Johnson Tunnel that runs under Lincoln Square and bought a portion of the abandoned Prescott Street. VHB worked initially with Cutler Associates and then with Maugel DeStafano Architects to design an innovative “podium” structure that straddles the tunnel, with parking on the ground level—what will be the City’s first air rights construction project. A glass walkway connects the new building to the Boys Club building.

“Making a very challenging project site workable required out-of-the-box thinking and close collaboration among all the project team members. There was a lot more to this project than a straightforward building renovation, but the work—especially the problem-solving aspect—has been rewarding and the end result will be a real win for the City,” said Rich Whitehouse, Jr., ENV SP, VHB’s project manager.

The City has enthusiastically endorsed the project, beginning with a unanimous Planning Board vote to greenlight it and the first-ever grant awarded by Worcester’s newly established Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Construction is expected to begin in early 2024 and be completed in the second half of 2025.

For more information about this and other VHB adaptive reuse projects, visit our asset repositioning page or contact Rich Whitehouse.

People smiling with hard hats and shovels.