Window of Opportunity

We are at a time where we have a unique window of opportunity to revitalize our downtown area. Landowners in the downtown area are poised to work together with the town to ensure their properties become part of a well-planned municipal development project. Our Massachusetts economy is strong. Growth is in our favor. Were we to ignore this opportunity, our downtown area could become occupied by less desirable businesses and structures, that may not fit onto our New England style town.

 

This is likely a one-time opportunity to achieve a desirable vision for our downtown area. 

 

With the town already owning the large parking lot and playground, the Holy Angels church building and the small parking lot across from the library, we have the beginnings of the land needed to support this effort. If we can combine these properties with the additional land within the downtown area, we can create a parcel that is ripe for development in a highly planned way. 

 

The way we ensure that our vision is carried out is through a strict process known as a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Our Selectmen working together with the Economic Development Committee (EDC) and many residents of the town will carefully draft a document that outlines the building characteristics dreamed desirable by the working group. The RFP will be posted on the General Register and also sent to developers who have demonstrated their ability to implement such a project. Each developer will submit a proposal back to the town, detailing their proposed plans, associated costs or revenues to the town of Upton. The town reserves the right to accept any or reject all and do nothing.

 

It is important to understand that the town won't ultimately own the buildings -- the developer will. The town will, however, have strict control over the design and builder chosen to get us as close to the overall vision as possible. 

 

NO DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE on the developer or the details of the project. While the EDC has worked hard to-date exploring and understanding the process required to make all this happen, there are no developers formally engaged in the project as of yet. The RFP process will determine the most appropriate developer. 

 

We hope everyone understands the unique window of opportunity we have today. We have a chance to make a major improvement to our town, which should have a favorable impact on our property values, our tax base, and the lives of our residents. 

Learn more about the process to make it all happen.

 

 

Upton has a Window of Opportunity to Reimagine & Revitalize the Center

 

Five factors have coalesced to create an unprecedented window of opportunity for major improvements in Upton Center:

(Numbers in the text below reference the diagram at the end of the text)

  1. A large swath of land in the Town Center is for sale. One entity owns three large properties on Main Street and Grove Street: the Arcade Block, 0 Grove Street and 8 Grove Street ( 1 ). All three properties are for sale. The Town owns the remaining properties in the area ( 2 ), including 0 Milford Street, the former Holy Angels Church, 2 Grove Street, and the Knowlton-Risteen Building. If the town acts quickly, it can ensure that its land and the private land are redeveloped according to a cohesive vision that set the stage for Upton Center’s success over the coming generations.

  2. A major project to improve Route 140 is scheduled for 2021. Route 140 from Williams Street to Brooks St/Elm St ( 3 ) will be resurfaced in 2021. This project could involve transformative improvements to intersections and sidewalks in the Center. Over $9,000,000 of federal and state funding has been allocated for the project. Design for the project has not begun yet.

  3. The Town is considering building a Community Center in Upton Center. The Town is conducting a feasibility study for a new Community Center that would blend the services of the Library and Council on Aging. The Town previously evaluated the feasibility of improving the Knowlton-Risteen Building for Library use. A Community Center or an improved Library in Upton Center could have a catalytic impact on the area.

  4. The economy is strong. Towns across the state are seeing renewed building activity, including mixed-use development and housing. Apartments located in walkable centers are in high demand. Numerous state grant programs favor mixed-use development in existing town centers.

  5. Residents of Upton agree it is time to act. A large number of Town residents have worked together over the past four months to agree upon a clear Vision for Revitalization of Upton Center. Over 130 Upton residents shared their concerns and dreams for Upton Center at a public listening session. Over 60 residents attended a day-long public workshop to sketch out a vision for the Center’s future. A Working Group, made up of over 40 volunteers who represent a broad cross-section of Upton Residents, held four intensive meetings to dig into the details of the vision and how to make it a reality.

 

Residents identified the following issues and opportunities related to Upton Center: 

Upton Center is not Fulfilling its Potential

  • The Center does not meet the daily needs of residents. Residents appreciate what is in Upton Center—Town Hall, the Library, the Historical Society Museum, United Parish Church, the VFW, the playground, ballfields, businesses, etc.—but they would like more opportunities to do things in the Center. Residents currently drive to other Towns to shop, eat, obtain services and hang out. Residents would like to be keep their dollars local and reduce the time they spend traveling. Residents, especially telecommuters, also cite the need for more workspace in the Town (like a co-working space).

  • The Center is Underperforming Economically. Much of the land in the Center is vacant and many existing buildings are old and in poor repair. This results in relatively low tax revenues from the Center. Further, the Center lacks attractive commercial spaces that could draw new businesses to Upton or provide a place for existing Upton businesses that want to expand or relocate.

  • The Center provides some places to live, but it could provide more. Upton Center currently provides some low-cost apartments and is home to people who might not otherwise be able to find a place to live in Upton. It could provide more places to live and more diverse types of housing that reflect the diverse needs of Upton’s residents.

  • The Knowlton-Risteen Building does not meet the needs of its users. The Library ( 4 ) is not big enough for a community of Upton’s size. The building is not fully handicapped-accessible and has structural issues that need to be fixed.

  • The former Holy Angels Church is vacant. The building ( 5 ) is owned by the Town. It requires substantial renovation before it can be put to new use.

  • Upton Center is Losing its Place as the Heart of the Community.  Residents describe how Upton Center used to be the heart of community life in the Town. The closure of Holy Angels Church, a decline in the number of events held in the Center, and the loss of businesses and buildings contribute to the sense that Upton Center is heading in the wrong direction. Without an active, vibrant town center, residents lack opportunities to make social connections, especially connections across age and social groups. 

Driving or Waking in Upton Center is Unsafe and Unpleasant

  • Traffic on Route 140 (Main St/Milford St) speeds through Upton Center. 9,500 cars pass through Upton Center every day. This opens opportunities for businesses that require visibility, but also creates safety issues and degrades the experience of being in Upton Center. Route 140 was designed to move cars through the center quickly—at the expense of safety, walkability, and the experience of the place.

  • Intersections in the center are confusing and dangerous. Five roads intersect with Route 140 in the Center, many at odd angles and with poor visibility ( 6 ).

  • The Center is not comfortable to walk or bike around. Sidewalks in the Center are narrow, disconnected and missing in key locations ( 7 ). Many sidewalks are not shaded by street trees and lack landscaping and street furnishings. There are no bike facilities in the Center.

 

The Center has a Rich History and Attractive New England Character

  • The Center is home to a collection of attractive, historic buildings. The Town Hall, United Parish Church, Fiske Building, former Holy Angels Church, and Knowlton-Risteen Building are arrayed around the Common and are aligned with the shifting views as one enters Upton Center. The design of the buildings is cohesive, reflecting their Greek Revival and Victorian-era origins. The classic New England town center design creates a strong sense of place.

 

The Center’s Open Spaces are an Untapped Opportunity

  • Open spaces are one of Upton’s strengths, but they are disconnected from the Center. Upton Center is close to Heritage Park ( 8 )and Kiwanis Beach but there are no direct paths from the Center to those valuable open spaces. Veteran’s Memorial Playground and the VFW ballfields are heavily used, but walking to them from the Center is unpleasant due to narrow sidewalks and the large Town parking lot at 0 Milford Street.

  • The Common is underutilized. The Common ( 9 ) is literally at the heart of Upton Center, but over time it has been eroded by road expansions, cut off by fast traffic, and has not maintained its role as a gathering place for the community.  

  • Mill Pond is an overlooked asset for the Center. Mill Pond (10) is an amenity for the Center but it is largely invisible and inaccessible from the Center.

  • Center Brook divides the Center, while it could unite it. Currently,  Center Brook (11) separates the Grove Street area from the area around the VFW and its floodplains have constrained development in some areas, especially the low area east of Grove Street (12). With forward-thinking efforts, Center Brook could become a unifying force in the Center with the sight and sound of water creating a unique experience.

UptonCenter_Issues and Opps Image_2019-0