The Bridge’s Last Stand
A community center fights for its life
That’s Dan Ford, Bridge organizer.
The Bridge is a special, special place and it is in great danger. A private offer on the Southbridge Street property threatens the entire enterprise, which community members have built up for years, and now the folks behind it are looking for a moonshot. They’re trying to raise a million dollars in two weeks.
For the uninitiated: the Bridge is an old mill building on the corner of Southbridge Street and Quinsigamond Avenue that hosts a number of community organizations. Organizers aim to make it a youth center for Worcester kids to learn trades and explore the arts. There’s a car restoration workshop in the basement, as well as an arts center, a skatepark and an art gallery on the inside. On the outside, there’s a brightly painted school bus full of computers. It’s called the STEM School Bus and the idea is to drive around from neighborhood to neighborhood and teach kids computer and science skills. There’s also a Caribbean food truck on the lot, owned by a chef who’s worked in Worcester kitchens for years. He couldn’t have launched his own business if it weren’t for The Bridge and he wants to build it out and give back with a culinary program for Worcester kids.
“We got people working on every nook and cranny of this building, man. Everyone has their own niche,” Dan Ford, a Bridge organizer, told me in a recent interview. “If you have something you’re willing to share with somebody, we’re not trying to tell people what to do. If you have a vision we want you to run with it.”
Miss Worcester Diner is also on the lot and also in jeopardy of losing its spot if none of that other stuff appeals to you.
The building has been on the market for a few years now as organizers have tried with little success to pursue methods of preserving it from the private real estate market.
Obviously this story is ultimately about gentrification. This building that local people with good intentions have used to carve out a space for the good of the community only became valuable to private real estate investors as the ballpark project down the street brought the speculators to town. The sudden interest of speculators threatens years of work by the community for the community. But to the speculators, this is irrelevant. It’s my money and I want it now.
So the organizers are making their last stand. Why not see if they can come up with a competitive offer themselves and fight back against the great white-crested wave of gentrification in the area.
There’s a really, really good video on this pitch and you can watch it below.
And you can donate here, on the GiveButter page.
I’ve been over to The Bridge a number of times. First, I went there in 2018 to write a story on the effort to preserve it. Ford, one of the key organizers who runs the Crash Course Creations car workshop in the basement, took me on a tour of the building and spoke lovingly about all his aspirations for the place. From my story at the time:
As Ford took us through the space, from the basement up to the third floor, he detailed his vision — a music room here, a dance studio there — one could see the potential for such a large mill space, despite its deteriorated condition. There were holes in some of the walls, window spaces without windows and a tower that serves, Ford said, as an entrenched pigeon coop. But Ford’s vision and his enthusiasm for what it could bring to the community was palpable. On the third floor, Ford outlined a space where he could provide bunks for kids who needed to get away from home, or else didn’t have one.
“Most (homeless) kids are couch surfing. In high school, they’re couch surfing. Sort of like I was,” he said. “That’s why this thing is so, so ... ” with a tinge if sadness in his voice, he trailed off and paused for a moment, but he quickly snapped out of it. Before I could get a question in, he was back on the tour, pointing to an old iron structure that used to be a crane, and workplace safety notices left on the wall from the factory days.
Ford is just one of many people that really, really care about this place.
I was there when Vanessa Calixto and her art gallery, El Salon, put on an art show and a dance party and filled the space with light and color and positive energy and the kids danced through the night and skated and ate jerk chicken.
I was there when dozens of artists tagged the outside of the building as part of a days long fundraiser. They made the building’s rough exterior match the homegrown culture within it.
I was there a number of times to visit Trevor Delapara at R&R Jerk Chicken. He makes by and away the best Caribbean food in the city. He sold off a classic car to buy the truck and he infuses his work with the pride of a cook who spent decades chained to other people’s stoves now working for himself.
There’s a free fridge on the property now, which people stock with food so that others can take it if they need to.
This is a special place. Increasingly, over the past two years, it has become an epicenter of Worcester culture.
“Community, man. This is all about community and people striving for one goal for each other. This isn’t a self-centered thing. This isn’t just for me. If I wanted to do a self-centered thing, I’d do it at my shop,” Ford said. “The gentrification thing we know is coming. So let’s hold down a hub where we can all fuckin’ strive. You know what I mean? We can build teams, we can build community, we can help raise each other’s kids. And frickin’ that’s… what else do you want?”
The elephant in the room here is that $1 million in two weeks is a moonshot. That would be an unprecedented fundraising effort for even big foundations and lets just say The Bridge does not have many moneyed men in its corner. So far, the fund has raised $21,000. That amount of money in three days is very impressive, but it is nowhere near enough. It’s going to take some very large donations from some very rich people in order for this to fully work. Unfortunately, very rich people tend to be of a different opinion on real estate. We see a place that adds value to our community. They see a potential for return on investment. It’s in a very rich person’s best interest to ignore or explain away the effects of gentrification because there’s no money to be made in working against it.
“They don’t see the potential in it,” said Ford of the investors in “Why don’t you help out? You guys are investors, right? Makes sense to throw some money in the right direction.”
As of now we don’t know who made this offer or why or what they plan to do with the building though the safe money is on demolishing it and putting up some housing that no one who already lives in the neighborhood can afford. Housing made out of plywood and two-by-fours and made to look like every other private equity-backed “creative class” trap in any other city around the country. Built for people who don’t live here but city officials would like to live here. Built for people who bring with them a wave of rent increases that drive other people out.
The person who owns the building, by the way, is sympathetic to the cause. He’s a friend of Ford’s and it’s by his blessing that Ford and Co. have been able to do anything with the building at all. But he manages a family trust. His fiduciary responsibility is that trust. He has to go where the money takes him. He’s giving The Bridge a few weeks to save the building, and he will take the money if they can come up with it, but either way he’s taking money.
So what happens if it doesn’t work? If they don’t raise enough to save the building and it does fall into the hands of a private real estate firm and advances the slow creep of gentrification out from the ballpark project into some of the city’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods?
Well, The Bridge isn’t going to give up that easy. The question then becomes where to move it. I was talking with one of the organizers the other day and he told me they’ve already got a few places in mind. So even if saving this building is a longshot, saving The Bridge is not. The Bridge as an idea, as a center for creative energy and grassroots activism in this city, is not going to go away. It’s going to adapt and survive. Unfortunately, it has to do so in an environment that is actively hostile.
There is no room for The Bridge in the project of gentrification fully realized.
I donated $100 to the Bridge and I don’t make a whole lot of money. The place is important to me and I hope I made a good case as to why it could or even should be important to you. This is usually the part of the post where I ask you to give me some money but instead this time I’d say give it to The Bridge instead. Here’s that link to donate again.
Also you can go down to The Bridge today and get some of that good good R&R Jerk Chicken. Today, 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Save The Bridge fundraising drive.
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The big news today is that all of the charges against all of the Black Lives Matter protesters that were arrested by Worcester police on the night they forced them down Main Street on June 1 have been dropped. DROPPED!! And I’m going to write about that later for sure but for now lemme just say woohoo! And that’s what you get when you copy and paste the criminal complaint for 19 separate criminal cases biiiiiich try harder next time. The police department really did that. The assistant district attorney said in a memo mysteriously handed to only the Telegram and MassLive that the charges were hinged on an 18th century law that is hard to prosecute? Definitely going to follow up on this one when I get my hands on that memo from the District Attorney’s Office.
Also breaking today is an internal investigation by the Worcester Police Department which found that the cop who went up to a man in the throes of a mental health crisis and strapped to a stretcher and slapped that man in the face used “reasonable force.” The slap, they claim, is an “open hand distraction technique.” You can’t make this stuff up.
Ok, enough for now. Talk soon!! Also I couldn’t find anyone to copy edit for me today so this one is coming to you raw I hope I didn’t miss anything but editing yourself is hard when you are very stupid.
Open-Handed Distraction Technique is my new band name.