Gardner MA City Centennial marks halfway point in Urban Renewal
Often Social Media posts reflect the impatience of Gardner residents. Whether it’s paving, rundown buildings, or desired improvements, the comments are numerous. So Gardner Magazine thought it would be a great time to remind our readers that there is a 25 year plan. Over a decade ago, in 2011, a 143 page Urban Renewal Plan for Gardner Massachusetts was published. In the background section it stated, “Gardner is poised to promote revitalization opportunities within a significant portion of the Downtown area, including areas of commercial/retail, office, residential, manufacturing, and public space land uses.” It went on to describe the past history of Gardner including the steady decline of the Downtown area after the 1950s, the decline of furniture manufacturing, and Gardner’s slow growth rate compared to the rest of the region, including population. Fast forward to 2022: Significant progress has been made in revitalization of Downtown Gardner with various projects underway. Manufacturing is coming back to Gardner with some significant success stories. A number of businesses have come to the Chair City in the past couple of years, even with the challenges of the pandemic. The population of Gardner is the highest in its history.
Gardner Challenges Were Identified
The plan identified various challenges including, “88 percent of the structures predating World War II” and “approximately 39 percent of the properties with buildings in the URA were found to be in moderate or severe disrepair.” A significant number of successes have already been documented, but in short, progress takes time. The National Grid substation on Park Street was identified as something to redevelop as recreational open green space. This was recently approved by the Gardner City Council with an appropriation of $260,000 from free cash. It was also desired to upgrade the Greenwood Memorial Bath House. However, since that time, the huge cost involved has precluded progress on that front and various other plans have been discussed with nothing finalized as of yet. Redevelopment of the Goodnow-Pearson Building was identified as a goal and was completed. Redevelopment of the Maki Building was identified, however, the building was instead torn down and will soon be Maki Park as $180,000 was recently approved by the City Council. A park has replaced the former theater on Parker Street. Rear Main Street was specifically mentioned and now a huge project is in the works. The plan was to construct a new Police Station and Gardner has a beautiful building today. The goal of redeveloping Heywood Wakefield III and IV into residential and assisted living was achieved.
Goals and Successes
One of the goals of the URP is to ““set forth a series of public improvements that together with private investment will transform Gardner into a thriving 21st century City.” Just look at the 99 Restaurant and surrounding buildings, the new Health Center being constructed near Walmart, and the various construction projects either completed or currently underway at Heywood Hospital. Various buildings in Downtown Gardner have recently changed hands with plans for renovation into modern structures with some renovation currently underway. Manufacturing employers in Gardner are thriving and are hiring. The Urban Renewal Plan contains various maps, charts, and property lists. If all of the goals in the 25 year plan are achieved, the results for Gardner will be truly transformative. In any case, there can be no dispute – Gardner MA is on a positive, upward trajectory. Read the 2011 plan for yourself. Here’s the pdf.