MAIN STREET JOURNAL – The City Council’s Urban Affairs Committee met last night to evaluate possible future uses of the Walker Building. Members recommended that the city formerly solicit proposals to see what interest there may be among developers to transform the building and adapt it for a new use. The committee’s recommendation will be forwarded to the full City Council for a subsequent vote.
It was way back in January when the council received the results of a study that identified four possible reuses of the downtown landmark – a condominium development, a hotel, mixed residential and retail use, or municipal offices.
The study was conducted by Symmes Maini and McKee Associates (SMMA) of Cambridge and included detailed assessments of the four options including building schematics, project costs and various pros and cons of each option.
The Walker Building was constructed in 1897 and used initially as a high school. It was expanded in the 1920s and renovated in 1964. The building is comprised of three main floors of approximately 15,325 square feet per floor, plus a basement, on a nearly one-and-a-half acre lot at 255 Main Street in downtown Marlborough.
Portions of the lower floors have been renovated into offices and are currently used in a limited capacity for city and non-profit offices and some technical school programs, although some of the renovated areas are vacant. The interiors of the upper floors are partially demolished, un-renovated, and vacant.
SMMA was tasked with identifying development options that met five basic criteria – promote economic activity in the Marlborough Village District; preserve the architectural character of the building; preserve the character of the memorial park and landscape foreground of the building; minimize investment costs for the city; and reflect input from city residents and stakeholders.
According to the SMMA report, “A building of this character and vintage cannot be readily converted to market-rate office space. Due to floorplate area, window size and spacing and other constraints, the potential for office redevelopment is limited. Similarly, the structure faces challenges as the basis for retail, assembly, or institutional use conversion.”
The condominium development imagined by SMMA would include seventeen two-bedroom and fifteen one-bedroom units spread over three floors, with the basement used for amenities, tenant storage and mechanical space. Projected cost is about $15.0M.
Among the pros, there is precedent for successfully converting school space into residential units. Additionally, local spending by new residents would be a boost to the downtown economy. Among the cons, available parking space may be too limited and the cost of needed alterations to the building might make the project too risky for private developers.
The hotel concept would include forty-four rooms on the second and third floors with accessory and ancillary spaces on the first floor including a registration area, reception lounge, business center, fitness room, and a restaurant/bar. The basement level could include a large meeting room along with mechanical, storage, and other support spaces for the hotel and restaurant. Projected cost is about $15.0M.
Pros of the hotel idea include potential for significant new economic activity downtown. Among the cons, the design limitations of the building could be an obstacle to financial success. Additionally, market demand is uncertain for more rooms in a city with so many other hotels already in service.
The mixed-use proposal would include twenty-two residential units on the second and third floors, with a 4,000 square foot restaurant on the first floor, and 2,000 square feet of retail space, also on the first floor. SMMA also envisions the potential for a 5,000 square foot performing arts center in the basement level, and 7,000 square feet of office space distributed between the first floor and basement level. Projected cost is about $15.0M.
The primary advantage of this option is its flexibility in that it could help economic development downtown while retaining space for municipal offices if needed and allowing for the potential of a new downtown attraction – a performing arts center. The primary drawback is that this plan would be more complicated to execute.
If used as a municipal building, SMMA envisioned offices on all four levels, with a meeting hall in the basement level, all together totaling 60,000 square feet. This option would be less costly at $13.7M and would allow the city to maintain control of the building but the cost would be borne by taxpayers rather than a private developer. Additionally, there would be little economic benefit and no new tax revenue generated.
Other possible uses considered by SMMA but not deemed to be viable or beneficial included residential rental units, commercial offices, medical offices, a library, a Center of the Arts, a museum, and a school or college.
This article originally appeared here.