WORCESTER — Emotional closure is what Mauro DePasquale wanted, and that’s why he attended Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony at the former site of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Mulberry Street.
“I’m here for the closing. I need to heal,” DePasquale said, minutes before Mayor Joseph M. Petty, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and other dignitaries spoke about an apartment complex and parking lot — with an estimated final price north of $100 million – which will be built on a 5-acre parcel where the church once stood.
DePasquale is president of the Mount Carmel Preservation Society, which filed an injunction and pleaded with the Vatican to prevent the Worcester Diocese from destroying the 91-year-old church.
Polito told those present Wednesday that the diocese does not have enough money to ensure the church building remains structurally safe.
Ultimately, the injunction failed, as did appeals to the Vatican. The church was torn down three years ago, and earlier this month the diocese sold the property to developer Wood Partners for $5.6 million.
“We fought hard. Nothing will replace the church,” DePasquale said.
A statement from the Diocese of Worcester to the Telegram and Gazette said: “Although we remember with sadness the day the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel had to be closed, today marks a new chapter in the neighborhood which will bring new residents and a new life in the area, as well as a more stable future for the parish community which now worships at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and Our Lady of Loreto on Massasoit Street.
After several speakers praised Wood Partners for working with the neighborhood to create a project that Worcester will be proud of, a gesture of reconciliation occurred.
DePasquale was asked to take a shovel and he joined the group as he performed the ceremonial shoveling of dirt in front of the cameras.
Moments later, DePasquale approached Jim Lambert, managing director of Wood Partners, and shook his hand.
It was the first time the couple had met face to face. Smiles were exchanged and DePasuale told Lambert, “(Development) won’t replace our church, but I appreciate what you’re doing.”
What Wood Partners does is commit to honoring the history of Mount Carmel Church. The new apartment building will have a community hall, and Lambert said he will work with the preservation society to display church artifacts in that space.
“We understand where (the neighborhood) is coming from. We appreciate what has happened here over time,” said Lambert, who said his company met with the preservation society and neighborhood residents early in the development process.
Wood Partners also donated $150,000 to the city to help relocate Joe DiMaggio Little League Field, which was on the Mount Carmel site, city development manager Peter Dunn confirmed. The plan is to move the land to Cristoforo Columbo Park.
A bronze flail to honor Worcester’s Second World War veterans which stood on the site of the church will be in the new apartment block, based on a commitment from the developer, the councilwoman said of District 2, Candy Mero-Carlson.
Additionally, discussions are underway with the city to rename the section of Mulberry Street from Shrewsbury to East Central Street as Mount Carmel Way, according to Mero-Carlson.
“Unfortunately, they couldn’t stop it,” Mero-Carlson said of the neighborhood’s desire to save Mount Carmel Church. “We made the best of a situation that was really ugly for a few years, to say the least.”
Leo is going to get parking spaces
Lee Turo Hanson also attended the groundbreaking.
His family has a 75-year record of serving Italian fare in the city, including Leo’s Ristorante, nestled closely next to the five-acre plot.
Leo’s has received a commitment from Wood Partners not to lose its parking lot once the project is complete.
Parking spaces will be reserved during construction, Lambert said, and when the project is complete there will be new parking spaces that Leo will rent from the developer.
“It’s a wonderful project. It’s great for the city. It’s great for everyone,” Hanson said.
Called Alta on the Row, the development will include a five-story building with 370 units at market price, connected to a five-story garage with more than 500 spaces.
In the spring of 2024, Lambert said construction should be complete, and Wood Partners was not the city’s first choice for a developer because it was not the highest bidder.
Lambert didn’t give up and contacted the city to say his company would be happy to step in if the chosen developer didn’t work out.
Checking off several points as to why his company chose Worcester, Lambert mentioned the city’s population north of 200,000, New England’s second-largest city. Plus, access to higher education and transportation, the city’s hospitals and medical community, dining and nightlife options, a growing life sciences industry, and opportunities employment.
Apartment developments will include one, two and three bedroom units. One-bedroom units will include three options: junior, standard, and those with a den.
Rent amounts have not been determined, Lambert said.
State and local tax breaks could be part of the project. Wood Partners requested $1 million in tax credits from the state through the Housing Development Incentive Program. Lambert mentioned a local tax abatement agreement that lasts 15 years.
Facilities will include a clubhouse and communal kitchen, fitness room, golf simulator, top floor lounge and two outdoor courts.
No affordable housing
Of the 370 units, none will be classified as affordable. Generally, affordable housing is for individuals and families earning a percentage of the Worcester area median income.
Worcester’s 2022 AMI is $114,400, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Worcester AMI comprises 33 communities in Worcester and Middlesex counties.
“There is a need for all types of housing in Massachusetts,” Lambert said. “(Wood Partners) is primarily a mark-to-market property developer.”
In addition, Lambert said an affordable housing element is not required by the city and that market rate units “work economically” for Wood Partners.
“Present in Spirit”
As for DePasquale, his attendance at Wednesday’s grand opening was cathartic.
As he is heartbroken the church his grandparents and parents attended — and where DePasquale himself grew up — has disappeared, he realizes the neighborhood has done all it can to save Mount Carmel.
The community hall where the church’s history will be remembered softens the blow, as does DePasquale’s acknowledgment that he appreciates what Wood Partners does to work with the community.
“(The Church of Mount Carmel) is always present in the spirit, if not the building,” DePasquale said.
Contact Henry Schwan at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram