City Manager Wants to Prioritize Watertown Square Rejuvenation

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Charlie Breitrose Improving Watertown Square will be a priority for new City Manager George Proakis.

During his preliminary budget presentation to the City Council, City Manager George Proakis said he has heard from a lot of people who want to see improvements made to Watertown Square. He wants to create a coordinated effort to improve the City’s downtown.

Like the intersection at the crossroads on the Charles, improving the area requires looking at several prongs.

During his first several weeks, Proakis said he has heard many opinions from many people about what to do with the Square.

“I have talked to so many people about Watertown Square, and there are so many different pieces going on here,” Proakis said. “There is some really good planning work that has happened, but all in particular topics: intersection improvements, concerns about the future of small business, what to do with parking lots, what to do with the old Police Station.”

One of the biggest concerns is the traffic that flows through the center of town.

“Watertown Square has always been a center for cut through traffic,” Proakis said. “There has been a lot of conversation about that, how to make sure that the Square can shine as our community’s downtown and center.” 

He told the Council he wants to make Watertown friendly to businesses of all sizes, which would include those in the Watertown Square area.

“We have done an excellent job on economic development planning as far as business recruiting, bringing lab buildings, enhancing our particular growth corridors,” Proakis said. “I also want to take a step back and make sure that we put some attention on our small businesses and our local business districts. And I have worked in the past in places where they have economic development staff that has worked specifically to assist small business with everything from permitting to getting outdoor seating for a restaurants, to storefront improvements and signage improvements.”

He noted that some new options could be available now that the City does not need to use the old Police Station as a City Hall annex. The municipal government’s space crunch will be addressed with the City’s purchase of the former Parker School on Watertown Street, which Proakis announced on Oct. 11.

Watertown officials are in the midst of updating the City’s primary planning document, the Comprehensive Plan, which Proakis said will be completed in the winter of 2023. He would also like to take a closer look at Watertown Square, and said he wants to make it a priority in Fiscal Year 2024 which begins on July 1, 2023. This would take into account local and state issues.

“Sometimes doing a physical plan covering all these pieces in one neighborhood and this is the natural place to start that,” Proakis said. “This is something I think is a valuable next step. So, I want to consider how we could do that, where we could potentially look for funding and support to do that and see how to address MBTA zoning issues as well and pull all these pieces together.”

9 thoughts on “City Manager Wants to Prioritize Watertown Square Rejuvenation

  1. While you’re at it, Mr. Proakis, can you please repair the jolting bumps where Belmont St. and Duff St. intersect, so that drivers and cars don’t continue to be damaged?

    You have the money.

    • I get what you are saying. However, filling potholes does not generate real economic growth. There is always an incentive to prioritize big shiny projects, especially as suburban Boston is changing rapidly. Lots of biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Some of the best universities in the world nearby. These projects can lead to massive investment in the coming decades.

  2. All due respect.
    We have redone the square , how many times now in the past 2 decades?
    And every time we make traffic worse and hurt businesses by eliminating more on street parking.
    Maybe we should use that money to redo more streets that look like the lunar surface.

  3. Please do not consider building a Parking Garage behind the existing CVS parking lot for people who commute on the bus lines from Watertown Square . Besides the Planner himself, I believe there are a few in the planning department that have considered this idea for a number of years along with doubling up the heights of the existing buildings with apartments or stores above much like Cambridge. The rear parking lot behind CVS is easily accessible and can use trees and is the last bit of nice open space that we have in Watertown Square. If people want additional space to leave their vehicles who commute then perhaps another garage can be built up on Galen Street. Our square has been designed so many times and will always be a “cut thru “ to Brighton, Cambridge, or up to the Mass Pike, Center Street and to Newton route 9 , and for many cars to travel to other places. I surely don’t see endless possibilities in our small square for adding additional buildings except for updating existing store fronts to look more charming rather than some old and some new ~ the square itself lacks charm and elegance as it is mostly made up of banking and not many buildings of any class whatsoever .. the “city people” are more working class people and is not the lovely Chestnut Hill crowd of “The Street” unfortunately nor it also lacks the charm of Belmont Center. Watertown square has always been made to be a metropolis if nothing but a round of traffic and more traffic along with many other streets in our city that should have long ago been planned differently as many streets are used as “cut thru’s “ instead of keeping them as genuine neighborhoods which they should have been always.

    • There are a few heritage buildings in Watertown Square and of course they must be preserved.

      But I agree that a garage is not a good idea. While we want to revitalize Watertown Square, we should be focusing, as much as possible, on transit as a way to get there.

  4. Good luck to Proakis. Watertown Square is an 18th century creation which was designed to serve as an artery for the then most important roadways of the day. An 18th century design that now accommodates 21st century models of transport and congestion.

  5. I’m almost afraid to ask what his future plans are. If it involves even more biotech and luxury residences, our community is doomed to lose it’s small town character and become more like ‘Technology Sq’ in Cambridge or Western Ave./Allston Yards just over the Arsenal St. bridge.

    Quote: “There has been a lot of conversation about that, how to make sure that the Square can shine as our community’s downtown and center.”

    Like the new biolabs on Galen St.? If that shining gem in the square is an example of what we can expect, then we just might as well hand over the deed to the city to the likes of Boylston Properties, Boston Development Group and Harvard University.

  6. It’s amazing how people adapt to their conditions, Here’s how I’ve done it. I had sustained an injury in a car accident years ago that from time to time requires me to use a cane. There’s just one occasion when I always use a cane.
    A couple of years ago, I tripped and fell on the uneven sidewalk on my street. I hit my head and broke my glasses. Fortunately, I didn’t sustain a concussion, because I broke my fall with my hands, fracturing one of my wrists. I am not a particularly litigious person, and fortunately I had health insurance, so with the exception of a continuing annoyingly achy wrist, I’m okay.
    So, my situation has not changed. The street and sidewalks are a mess, even though this has been reported to the City on numerous occasions, and I, having suffered the consequences of that fact, never leave my house for a walk without my cane to further stabilize myself on the still treacherous terrain.
    How many of us in Watertown are doing this…mindlessly compensating for an unaddressed shortcoming in our community? These are the simple things that over years have been neglected. There are just so many times that residents will call for help before they just give up in disgust. A triple A S&P rating is a wonderful thing, but not the only thing.
    And as for redoing the Square…I agree with the other responders:
    There are heritage buildings in Watertown Square (more than we are accounting for. Please look for the video “The Incredible Shrinking Watertown,” that should be coming out in early 2023). Also, parking and the lack of small businesses on Main Street that are open in the evening (do you remember how popular The Talk restaurant was, for example?) add to the ghost town feel in the evenings.
    Here’s my question: City Council and City Manager, you have said that you’re working on a process to GENUINELY involve citizens in decisions like these. Are the Watertown Square plans already set, or is there room for us?

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