WORCESTER - Their mission is bold.
“We want to do the impossible: train Worcester people to park two blocks away and walk,” said Canal District developer Allen Fletcher.
But with the upcoming reconfiguration of Kelley Square and the construction of Polar Park, now just may be the time for such a revolutionary idea as a free shuttle service connecting satellite parking lots and the Canal District.
“My vision for this whole neighborhood is always for it to be a walking district,” said Dino Lorusso, owner of Crompton Place. “We’ll get you to the district — then walk around!”
The Canal District Shuttle officially kicked off Tuesday, running a roughly 10-minute circuit to bring employees and customers from satellite parking lots to businesses in the Canal District.
Passengers can park for free at four lots on the other side of Kelley Square from the Canal District’s main drags of Green Street and Water Street. The parking lots are at 156 Washington St., 172 Washington St., 182 Washington St., and 9 Langdon St. They offer a combined 200 to 250 spaces and are a four-minute walk from Crompton Place, developers said. According to Google Maps, the walk to Crompton Place on Green Street is five minutes for the quarter-mile from the closest of the lots and nine minutes for the half-mile from the farthest.
The 15-passenger bus will make stops Tuesdays through Saturdays in front of Crompton Place on Green Street; at the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center, which is at Harding and Winter streets; on Harding Street behind The Queen’s Cups, Maddi’s Cookery and TapHouse, and Lock 50; and then at 1 Kelley Square near the Worcester Public Market under construction.
The idea is driven (quite literally — you might see them behind the wheel) by three Canal District developers: Mr. Fletcher, owner of the Worcester Public Market, Mr. Lorusso and Ed Murphy. It is funded with a $60,000, three-year loan from Cornerstone Bank and from donations from local businesses, including BirchTree Bread Co. Table Talk Pies, and Smokestack Urban Barbecue.
“We are pretty excited about the shuttle for both our customers and employees,” said Avra Hoffman, co-owner of BirchTree. “How can we not be? It’s a free ride to a free parking lot! That’s a pretty sweet deal.”
Many things are still “a work in progress,” according to developers, such as how much participating businesses will pay, whether there will be nighttime service extending from business hours to 10:30 p.m., and whether musicians will be recruited to play on the bus.
But the developers are betting the service will be well-used both by employees who work in the district and the public.
The Canal District is already a draw where parking is at a premium, the developers noted. And spaces are expected to become more desirable as construction commences and eliminates some parking. In fact, the city has launched a website, www.worcestercanal.com, for residents and visitors to stay up to date on construction activities, upcoming traffic changes, and parking options. Visitors can also sign up for weekly email updates, according to the city.
“We think we’re helping solve a problem, and wherever it takes us we’re happy to go there,” said Mr. Murphy.
The developers are well-aware of perhaps their biggest challenge: Worcesterites’ innate predilection for storefront parking.
“This again is this new radical concept of parking and actually walking,” Mr. Fletcher said. “If we do it right, it could be a signature of the district.”
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