Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Planning The Plan

Recently I've read a few things about the start of developing the new Master Plan for Sturbridge.

I wish the committee good luck. The last time this was done was in 1988, and not much came of it. This time will be different. I know this because it seems that not only are people concentrating on developing the plan, but implementing it as well. Now, this is not to say this was not the case in 1988, but I think back then, the committee that developed the thought out plan placed it onto the laps of other folks that said, "Thank you.", and that was it.

Too much is at stake today. Sturbridge needs to reinvent itself, and this plan is our blue print.

First thing we need to decide on is whether Sturbridge is a tourist destination, or a tourist friendly community. This issue has been raised by a number of businesses, and is important in taking the next step. If we choose a tourist destination then we must rely on things other than just Old Sturbridge Village, or seriously build off OSV on a grand scale. If we decide to be a tourist friendly environment then we need to design our existing infrastructure to accommodate visitors. New signage, information kiosks, parking, and an aggressive recruitment campaign to bring tourist type businesses to town. Each of these directions must also be tailored to accommodate the residents of Sturbridge as well.

Let's take developing the town as a tourist destination first. OSV can only offer so much for the visitor. One to two days of exploring the grounds, enjoying a great meal, and learning about a by-gone era is a bout it. The hotels in town need folks to stay longer than that. Shopping can take up another day, but what we need is another venue, preferably an indoor one, that the entire family can use. Springfield has the Basketball Hall of Fame, Worcester has theBulleted List Ecotarium, Higgins Armory, the DCU Center, and others. We're small town, but we need something that can be a destination on it's own, and spill its visitors to OSV, and the shops into town as well.

We need to keep in mind that we are at the junction of two interstate highways. Few communities can claim this, and those that do, take advantage of it. We need to as well.

I have a few ideas.
  • A theater, or music venue that would attract name talent of a wide variety of genres. Now, if we couple that with a restaurant, beautiful landscaped grounds we will have a destination that will draw from south along I-84, and from the east west along the Pike.
  • Athletic field that will attract championship game from around the Commonwealth. Maybe, Little League championship games, High School playoffs, and maybe an occasional minor league ball game.
  • A major retail outfit like the Bass Pro Shop, LL Bean with other retail outfits that would compliment the anchor. Then promote the areas outdoors to those shopping.
  • Pave the bike paths, make them multi-user friendly for everyone from walkers with strollers to bicyclist, and roller bladders. If we don't pave, we will only attract a certain clientele, and we need to attract all sorts of folks.

Now, if we go in the other direction, to more of a tourist friendly environment, then we need to put on our Sunday best.

  • Improved, and professionally designed signage. A common theme should be decided on and chosen. The theme will link all areas of the town together.
  • Parking. This was in the 1988 Master Plan as well, but is 20 years late, and more than needed today. The parking should be from 50 to 100 cars, and located on Route 20 near the retail shops. A small fee could be charged to park, and residents would have a sticker in order to park for free.
  • A continuing plan for beautifying our streets much on the idea of what is currently done, but in a much larger scale. Large planters of flowers, hanging baskets, seasonal decorations, and a sign bylaw that would eliminate the gaudy signs that some businesses have.
Now, these ideas are just minimal ones, a Master Plan incorporates much, much more. Sewage planning, upgrading infrastructure, lot sizes, the types of residential developments required , building our industrial base, and on, and on.

Most of the ideas I've mentioned above have been talked about by others, and I am sure will be addressed again as time goes on. In a month or so, the residents of Sturbridge will be asked for their input into the process. Suggestions, ideas, and support for ideas already out there will be addressed by those that live here. That input is paramount to making this Master Plan a worthy, and workable one.

One more thing. Industry. This is something that we spend too little time on. We seem to want to promote our history, and outdoors, which is great, but it seems that any talk of attracting more industry to this "Gateway to New England" would threaten those very things.

I don't think so.

Nowadays industry can build in ways that are not only "green", but in such a way as to blend into the community. Our geographical location is a gold mine, and unless we are blind to that very fact, we must not only explore it, but include in the Plan, marketing and recruiting, planning, and infrastructure support for industries that desire to be here.

This one thing alone could attract more tax revenue, more money into our local economy, more residential talent that could help with our continued growth.

So, good luck Master Plan Committee, your job is an arduous one, and when complete, we will, hopefully, be in a better place than now, and for the next 20 years.


  1. You make good points, especially the one about tourist destination vs. tourist friendly. Boston is a tourist destination, I think we are tourist friendly and if we can extend the stay of those visiting OSV, I think we would be in a good spot. I agree.

  2. You tout Bass Pro Shop, LL Bean with other retail outfits that would compliment the anchor, as something that would benefit our town. It is important to look at suburban towns that host such shopping and then decide if that is what you want your town to be. These shops don’t come alone, they are located in large commercial sprawl. If we want to revitalize our tourist shopping destination, developing sprawl outside of town will be detrimental to such efforts. Do we want to be suburbia, or hometown tourist friendly Sturbridge?

    Clean industry, physical rehabilitation center, indoor sports recreational facility, professional offices are all uses that would add to our economic development, without being detrimental to our existing commercial retail tourist district. Adding shopping malls, outlet shopping, and subsequent sprawl to Sturbridge is working against everything that would make us a unique destination. A bad economy is tough enough to deal with, we need to be smart as we make suggestions on what type of growth we should encourage in our town.

  3. You make several good points. The "host town" is responsible in establishing just how it would like its retail area exploited. Are they willing to be like Natick/Framingham and open the doors to all and become over run by shops, or plan better and be like Patriot Place in Foxboro? Or, something totally different? Using our "gateway" location as a destination for those coming this way, and onward, would be ideal. Nothing large and sprawling, just one place that is like no other, that would attract folks off the highway to the retail area. Offices, rehab, clean industry, are all great ideas, and ideas we should explore and market, but we also need something that will attract the "masses" as well, and it must done right. A sprawl is something we don't want, I agree.


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