Exhilaration about the future of Watertown’s downtown was easy to notice during the Redevelopment Autority’s meeting Monday night in city hall.
“I’m really excited. I’m really glad to be a part of it. I’m excited to be here and we’re excited to be here.”
That was how SmithGroup Urban Designer Tom Rogers concluded his presentation on the new town square project to the Redevelopment Authority. The presentation showed a timeline for the project from demolition to completion with the town square being completed sometime in fall of 2021.
The presentation also showed a preliminary budget projection for entire project of between $2.8 million and $3.8 million.
This projected budget would work towards three different target areas for the project, the largest piece going directly toward the town square, identified as the area from the river’s edge to Water Street south of Main Street, which was outlined to receive $1.9 million to $2.6 million of the project costs. This projection would go toward multiple different areas including $450,000 to $650,000 to hardscape and walls, $450,000 to $650,000 to a water feature, structures and furnishing, $150,000 to $200,000 to landscaping, $200,000 to $250,000 to electrical and lighting and $80,000 to $120,000 to utilities.
Although the town square area would absorb most of the cost, there is also a portion of the budget set for both Water Street and the river front. The river front would have a budget of between $350,000 and $450,000 for improvements to be made, according to Rogers. There is also a projected budget of $550,000 to $750,000 for Water Street.
Water Street could see the biggest change if ideas presented during the meeting hold firm.
According to Rogers, there has been a discussion about turning Water Street into a shared, curb-less street. This shared street idea would allow the street to remain open regularly, but also be able to potentially be closed for events in which the street could become an accessible plaza where events or features, such as food trucks for example, could be placed, according to Rogers.
“I think it creates a more active and livened streetscape and helps give the city more flexibility with how they use it,” Rogers said of Water Street. “It can flex from a small area to a big area, getting double duty out of that space.”
The timeline for the project was also broken into three different parts, the first outlining the demolition, the second on the design and permitting and the third on the bids and construction.
The demolition portion was outlined for the spring of 2020 and would cover the demolition and cleanup of the 100 block buildings as well as grant applications for grants for the project. Rogers presented a number of different grants the RDA could apply for to gain some funding for the project and said completing applications would need to “happen sooner than later.”
The design and permitting portion is projected to be completed between spring and fall of this year, according to the presentation. This includes eight to 10 weeks for design development as well as 10 to 12 weeks for the completion of construction documents. Permitting would also need to be completed during this time, but a timeline was yet to be determined.
Bid and construction is projected to be completed from winter of this year until fall of 2021, according to the presentation. This portion of the project would include a potential bid to be selected in the winter with an eight to 10 month projection for construction to be completed. This would have the area open sometime in fall of 2021, according to the projection.
“That is what our group has potentially looked at as a preliminary estimate for how that would work,” Rogers said.
As far as when demolition of the 100 block buildings would potentially begin, RDA executive director Kristen Fish said that although some of the 100 block buildings, specifically the 111 and 115 buildings, would need to go through Phase 2 environmental testing from the state Department of Natural Resources, the group did obtain approval to begin demolition on the buildings to the east of the 111 building beginning at 101. In order to complete the full demolition, the group is still awaiting some grants for the project. Although no date was revealed for when this demolition would begin, Fish said the group’s hired contractor would start soon.
The project will also see some significant steps moving forward over the next few weeks. According to members of the RDA, the schematic design for the project is complete and SmithGroup will be presenting this design to the project’s design task force during a meeting this Friday. Once this design is approved and the potential requested changes are made, this design will be made public. This would mark the first publicized outline of the project.
“I hope that we have stuck a balance between the desires of all the different stakeholders and what we heard and getting them the most of the things that they want that provide not only the best use, but the best value and opportunity for the community to create a catalyst for bringing people downtown,” Rogers said. “For me, what it’s all about is creating a destination. What I really hope is the group and the community is excited about the destination that we would like to help them create.”
Fundraising for the project has also begun, according to Fish. During the meeting, it was expressed the RDA hoped to obtain at least 1/3 of the project’s cost through a combination of fundraising and grants.
Members of the board and SmithGroup couldn’t help but express their enthusiasm for the future project.
“I think anytime I can work with a community and a group of stakeholders to make a positive change in their community that is something I am personally excited about,” Rogers said. “We, as a group, really like to help communities take a place that is maybe underutilized and breathe new life into it and get people to interact with it in a new way, especially when we’re talking about a downtown and a riverfront.”
“We are really excited about this, really, really excited,” Fish said.