Picture This Reuse of Westborough State Hospital
A concept of media-focused, upscale mixed-use development was pitched publicly in Westborough for the first time Tuesday.
The basic concept of a media-focused, upscale mixed-use development at the former Westborough State Hospital site was pitched publicly in Westborough on Tuesday for the first time.
But Town Planner Jim Robbins cautioned that the site’s reuse won’t go beyond the drawing board for quite some time.
The state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick all have roles to play before the permitting process begins, Robbins said during Tuesday’s Westborough Economic Development Committee meeting.
“I think it would be erroneous for anyone to come away from this thinking they understand where this mixed-use development will go in the future,” Robbins said.
DiasporaCapital CEO Anton Nel presented his vision for the site to the committee Tuesday morning. He will make a similar presentation to the planning board on Dec. 13.
Nel said his concept is to create “a destination development, with a media focus, but (which would) be supportive of retail, restaurants, businesses,” which includes part of Northborough.
Envisioned in phases over six years, the picture includes a 96,000-square-foot sound stage to be subdivided; space for building temporary sets; a hotel, “doesn’t have to be a five-star hotel. But something different”; and “very hip office space,“ which is “something that doesn’t exist here at the moment” :“loft, young industry, media type, wood floors, exposed beams,” Nel said.
Nel said he looked into the site’s history to see “how we can utilize that site without actually encroaching on any of the requirements or any of the needs, and also the needs of the town.”
“I think you can do something there that would be a benefit to the town and you can also turn it into a destination,” he said.
Nel said he would like to see the site have an amphitheater for such community entertainment as school plays and Sunday concerts. He said he has spoken to Shakespeare in the Park representatives, and “they’re very, very open to bringing a small troupe out here on a regular basis.”
“If you have a Sunday afternoon jazz concert, those people aren’t going to drive off. They’re going to stay on the site. They’re going to spend money at the retail,” Nel said.
Nel also said retaining “the public access to the waterfront, I think, is very, very important because it is a destination.”
The project would retain the public fields “in perpetuity,” he said. And the “preservation and adaptation of a majority of the historic structures” is very important to historical society, he noted.
Robbins said Nel has been “very open to our concerns for the site,” including being ”sensitive to the town’s desire to have access to the water, maintain its recreational uses, and also its concern for the historic buildings.”
“I think Anton’s approach, although conceptual at this point, is a good fit,” Robbins said.
“It’s a way’s away, not something that’s going to happen overnight. But the enthusiasm is there.”
Committee Chairman Lester Hensley said Robbins and Town Manager Jim Malloy have worked with the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance in recent years toward reaching “a point where they have a proposal on the table for Westborough to consider in the acquisition of the property.”
Nel has presented “one concept for the site,” Hensley said.
“What’s exciting about this concept is that it’s a much bigger concept than anything that has been done before around film. It’s not just a soundstage that’s intended to attract the movie industry. It’s this extraordinary blend of uses,” said Hensley, who also chairs the planning board.