Letters: Economic Development Opportunity for 4 Corners – Finally!
On November 18, 2016 at 3:30PM a significant economic development event occurred after decades of talk. Jay Ash, the Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, came to Groton to present a MassWorks infrastructure grant for almost $2.1 million to fund the economic development of 4 Corners. The grant will be used to construct a sewer system to connect the underutilized commercial area at and around 4 Corners to Ayer’s sewer system. This project will open up this area in Groton for additional economic development opportunities (and subsequent tax revenues) for businesses that require sewer access.
For those who are not familiar with the history of 4 Corners, the discussion of economic development at 4 Corners goes back to the nineteen sixties and perhaps even earlier. In 2004, the 68,200 square foot Shaws Supermarket building was constructed. Around the same time an additional 17,470 square feet was constructed (10,000 square feet attached to the supermarket plus 7,470 square feet along the edge of Sandy Pond Road). Of that space only one section of the building along Sandy Pond Road was ever occupied - briefly by the Riverbend Appliance store. As of 2016, all 17,470 square feet of retail space remains empty. In addition to the existing buildings, the site plan for the “Shaws Corner” (approved in 2003), shows that an additional 22,340 square feet of retail space was approved but never constructed. In essence, 39,810 square feet of potential retail space has lay idle on the “Shaws Corner” for over twelve years!
On the empty corner across Sandy Pond Road from Shaws, lies 4.5 acres of commercial land where the Jade Chinese restaurant was located until its demolition about twelve years ago. This property was recently sold and is available for commercial development.
So why has all this space not been developed one might ask? The consensus of developers, engineering firms, potential investors, and real estate firms (who tried leasing the space), was that the lack of a sewer system that could handle the type amount and type of effluent prevented likely businesses from considering locating on either of these two corners.
So how did the change come about regarding 4 Corners, and how did the Town of Groton get a $2.1 million MassWorks state grant? After decades of talking about plans for a complete economic development of 4 Corners, a full court press to make it happen started in the fall of 2014 when Town Manager Mark Haddad took the reins of the project. He assembled a team that included Selectwoman Anna Elliot, former Town Planner Michelle Collette, Town Planner Laurie Bonavita, Water Superintendent Tom Orcutt, Assessor Rena Swezey, DPW Director Tom Delaney, members of the Town of Groton Economic Development Committee, representatives from the Town of Ayer, and other Town Hall employees. This diverse group then developed a plan to get approval for the project at the spring of 2015 Town Meeting with the objective of getting a State of Massachusetts MassWorks economic development grant to pay for the bulk of constructing a sewer system. The proposal met resistance from some people in the town but Mark Haddad did not give up. Eventually the plan was approved at the spring of 2015 Town Meeting and the development of a proposal for a MassWorks Grant began in earnest. In August of 2015, a proposal was submitted to the State but unfortunately a grant was not approved in November of 2015. Many of us were discouraged. Nevertheless, Town Manager Mark Haddad, although disappointed, started planning to redo the application and resubmit it in 2016, and once again marshalled the town resources to redo the grant application for submission in 2016.
Mark Haddad led the effort to talk with state officials to better understand why we did not get a grant in 2015. After many weeks of work by Mark and those who had been involved in 2015, a refined grant application was submitted in August of 2016. And then on Monday November 14, 2016 we were notified that the grant for about $2.1 million had been approved.
We all owe Mark Haddad a huge amount of gratitude. He never gave up! As State Senator Eileen Donoghue said at the grant celebration on Friday November 18, 2016: “Your leadership made this happen.”