[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
May 1 - 8, 1998


Mac attack

Should we really be surprised the city turns its cheek when the big boys come to town?

by Walter Crockett

[McDonalds] Did you ever notice how buildings that stand in the way of developments have a way of torching themselves?

Perhaps they feel it's the least they can do in the name of progress: they know their days are numbered so they just spontaneously burst into flames. That makes it easier for the developer to proceed with demolition -- and to argue that his project is the savior of a blighted neighborhood.

I seem to recall fires leveling a few three-deckers that once stood near Park Avenue, where the proposed Super Stop & Shop wants to set its giant asphalt footprint. How civic-minded it was of those houses to choose the glorious death of spontaneous combustion! They should receive unlimited triple coupons in housing heaven.

Stop & Shop and Big Y are battling over who'll build the first jumbo supermarket in the neighborhood between Chandler and May streets near Park Avenue. Barry and Janet Krock control the trusts that own the land Stop & Shop wants between Park Avenue and Beaver Brook Park. It's been a grotesque moonscape for several years since they tore down everything and dumped piles of fill all over the property.

The Stop & Shop developers want the city to give up a few sections of street for the supermarket. As gentle encouragement, they've allowed the property to become totally overrun by in windblown trash and illegal dumping. Perhaps it's their way of saying, "Look at this unseemly pigsty. We'll clean it up if you give us all the permits."

If you or I allowed our land to gather trash like this, the Health Department would be all over us. But the city looks the other way when the big boys are involved.

The neighbors don't like the Stop & Shop plan. They think it will ruin traffic on Park Avenue and adversely affect Beaver Brook Park. Guess what? They're right. Somebody suggested that maybe the neighbors should pick up some of the trash that lines EVERY BIT of the proposed Stop & Shop site and deliver it to the Krocks' gated compound on Salisbury Street. The wall of forsythia that shields their lovely home from view recently lost its yellow petals. Perhaps a fancy array of Dunkin Donuts cups and broken couch springs would restore a certain seasonal je ne sais quoi to their front 40. That's what somebody suggested, anyway. But I think they arrest people for littering on that side of the city.

The neighbors are in favor of the Big Y proposal, which would put a supermarket where Zayre used to be off May Street and Mayfield Street on the other side of Beaver Brook Park. The Big Y location would pose fewer traffic problems. But Big Y has also allowed its site to decay and become a dumping ground in recent months. And the plan to back the supermarket right up to the park will certainly make the park less attractive than it is now. I hear the developer has already bought one house on May Street and plans to buy another to enlarge the entryway. This is not being a good neighbor.

In the best of all possible worlds, the Krocks would donate their land to the city, and we'd extend Beaver Brook Park all the way up to Park Avenue and rename it Krock Field. In the second-best of all possible worlds, the city would take the land by eminent domain and extend the park.

But since we seem to be living in the third-best of all possible worlds, the least the city can do is put some real pressure on the supermarket wannabes to clean up their property and to make their plans enhance both the neighborhood and the park.

What will they give us in exchange for the permits? What will they give us in exchange for the streets? A city government with vision would ask questions like these.

BUT WHEN IT COMES to planning and bargaining, our city government has all the foresight and self-restraint of a $20 crack whore -- and even less persuasive power. Take, for example, the case of Main South. First the mayor declares it an area of top priority and, for some reason having to do with Wyman Gordon, extends the boundary down Madison Street toward Kelley Square. Then the owners of the Burwick building at Main and Madison streets -- gateway to Main South -- announce that they're going to tear it down and build a gas station and a McDonald's.

Just what we need. Eat here and get gas. A nice family restaurant -- conveniently situated between the new Youth Center, the old PIP shelter, Kirsch Liquors, and a few of the seediest bars in town. A nice corner gas station -- a stone's throw from two other gas stations and just up the road from Kelley Square, which has two more. Hordes of happy conventioneers will now be able to leave the Centrum Centre and amuse themselves all afternoon by driving from one gas station to the next. They'll need all that gas when they try to find the airport.

I don't know about you, but one of my major complaints in life is that I don't have enough places to buy Big Macs. Some days I want my Big Mac in a place with a big kiddie play area. Some days I want it in a place with a small kiddie play area. Some days I like to eat my Big Mac in Webster Square, and some days I just must have it in Greendale. And every time I walk by the Burwick building I think to myself, "If I could eat a Big Mac at this precise location, I'd feel that I lived in a city worth its salt."

Naturally, the building's would-be demolishers are already arguing that it's become an eyesore. And though residents like Castle Street's Jim McKeag are leading the charge to preserve it, and even the Planning Board seems to be dragging its heels on the permits, most people consider it a done deal. The city seems to feel its hands are tied.

Meanwhile, on the other end of downtown, the building at 75 Grove Street is soon to be demolished to make way, I hear, for a Staples. This is real progress. Not as much progress as if they'd put up a Burger King, but progress nevertheless.

And it's a fitting testament to longtime city manager Franny McGrath. He never could plan anything more profound than a treeless four-lane street and both his successors as city manager have upheld his untarnished legacy of cluelessness.

HEY, SOME GOOD NEWS: the Worcester Phoenix is celebrating its fifth anniversary. At one time -- when I worked at another weekly publication in this city -- I was dedicated to seeing that this day never came. Now I am delighted to wish the Phoenix many happy returns. This weekly weathered some very tough competition and came out stronger for it -- and "more Worcester" too. (As a matter of fact, they don't come any more Worcester than Phoenix events editor Brian Goslow.) Now the rest of the competition has to look sharp.

"So how do you like your new job?" people often ask me. In fact, writing a Phoenix column every two weeks is just one of my new jobs, but I like it very much. I've been encouraged here, which is a feeling I enjoy getting used to. And I've had more freedom here than anywhere else to write whatever I want.

My last column, on global warming, went on so long that I never got to mention some of the local people I interviewed for it. Roger Leo and Harvey Rayner, who believe the earth is heating up, were very helpful. So were Al Southwick and Paul Rogers, who don't believe it. Al called me up after the column ran to warn me that I shouldn't be snookered by environmental radicals. Two days later the Boston Globe ran a story about how 1997 was the hottest year in 600 years. Who's snookering whom? Twenty years ago I was arguing with Al about nuclear power, back when he was chief editorial writer for the T&G. I was right then, too. But why let nuclear or global meltdown come between friends?

So long live Al Southwick. May his air conditioner never malfunction.

And long live the Worcester Phoenix. May its competition always feel the heat.

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