Looking Downtown: Revitalizing Watertown’s public square

COURTESY OF watertowndri.com

BY: Craig Fox
The city of Watertown’s $10 million downtown grant is already spurring interest in downtown, according to local developer Brian H. Murray.

                Usually a slow time of the year, a dozen potential tenants showed interest during December in downtown rental space he owns.

                Out of the 12 who inquired about space, he hopes three new tenants will sign leases by the end of January, Mr. Murray said. He credits the city’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative program. 

                “It’s all of the talk about the DRI,” he said. “We’ve seen a spike in interest. There’s a lot of excitement for Public Square.”

                Mr. Murray would not reveal any information about the potential tenants or what properties they’ve inquired about.

                Mr. Murray co-owns the Lincoln Building on Public Square and owns several other prominent downtown commercial buildings.

                The city’s Planning Department and the city’s Local Planning Committee are working with a team of state-selected consultants – Elan Planning, River Street Planning and M.J. Engineering – to plan how to redevelop downtown under the DRI program.

                The planning committee – a group of 20 business and community leaders putting together Watertown’s DRI program – are starting to work on prioritizing projects.

                “They are trying to determine which ideas are ideas and which are realistic projects,” said Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director.

                Divided into three subcommittees, the group will find out more information about the projects from those who have proposed them.

                The potential projects include new development and rehabilitation, public improvements and marketing and branding.

                The list of potential project ideas that were submitted to the planning committee include: a downtown public parking garage; continued renovations to the former Masonic Temple; several cafes; a banquet hall on the top of the Lincoln Building and restoration on the other floors; improvements to the Jefferson County Historical Society mansion; and roof and window replacement at Knowlton Technologies.

                A final list of projects must be completed in March and sent to the state for approval. By next fall, some of the projects could be ready to roll.

                The projects must have leverage with other private and/or public funding and be a catalyst for other development.

                Organizers want the plan to capitalize on the city’s unique riverfront setting, promote renovation and adaptive reuse of historic properties, improve walkability of the downtown corridor and increase downtown opportunities for commerce.

                As part of its DRI application, the city proposed converting the former Masonic Temple’s “great meeting room” on the second floor into a performing arts center.

                Watertown was awarded the $10 million DRI grant in October. Ten other cities in the state also received $10 million.