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The Bridge is dead
Long live The Bridge
Welp it finally happened. We finally lost our battle with “the renaissance” to keep a community center built by and for the community. The dream of a locally owned and controlled center of culture and education has officially been snuffed.
The Bridge is dead. The developers won. The city didn’t intervene. A special place is going the way of so many special places in Worcester in the past few years. We’re trading the unique for the pablum. We’re trading something uniquely Worcester for something that does not benefit and in fact hurts the majority of people living in Worcester.
A center for the neighborhood’s children to blossom and grow and explore the arts and trades will turn into luxury condos no one in the neighborhood can afford.
If you’re unfamiliar with The Bridge, read this old post of mine.
In about a month’s time, all of the community groups and small businesses that have called The Bridge their home over the past seven or so years will have to vacate the building. The plans for the building are uncertain, save that a Boston-based developer named Dalfior Development Inc. has purchased it and they plan to convert it to condos or demolish it and rebuild.
Trevor Delapara quit his job in a local kitchen, sold a sports car and opened R&R Jerk Chicken, a Caribbean food truck on The Bridge property, several years ago. I caught up with him the other afternoon as he fired up the smoker he keeps behind his truck. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do and in no uncertain terms he is fucking pissed.
“One month. One month,” he said. “When I came to this place it was a fucking dump.”
Last week, the owner of the building shut down what was going to be a two-day music and arts festival called Bodega Fest. I wrote about it a couple weeks ago. He called the police and the fire department and they came down two days ahead of time and made sure through all the levers of bureaucracy at their disposal that the show would not happen. Delapara expected a good weekend for his business, and now, after years of colorful, interesting and fun events at The Bridge, they can’t do anything at all in the final month. Shows are canceled for good.
“He’s saying we got one month but we can’t have no activities,” said Delapara. “That is some straight up bullshit. You know what I’m saying? He’s like, I’m going to give you one month to get the fuck off the property and I’m going to cut your legs off or your pockets out. That way you can’t make another dollar while you’re here. That’s some bitch shit.”
Naturally, the conversation turned to Polar Park, the monolith a few hundred yards away that serves as something akin to the Barad-dur for the Sauron’s Eye of real estate speculators. The Bridge put on fun, family-friendly events that were free and open to the community, said Delapara. For many Worcester families, especially in that area, which is more economically disenfranchised than the city on the whole, to say the least, a day at Polar Park is prohibitively expensive.
“You can invest $100 million into the ballpark. I took me and my girl and the two kids to the ballpark. Four hot dogs and three sodas cost us $35. And that’s not counting the tickets. What fuckin’ poor family, what poor person could go to the ballpark? The ballpark doesn’t represent poor people.”
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When Delapara started R&R Jerk Chicken about five years ago, he was still washing dishes and shoveling snow to come up with money for necessary improvements and repairs. Over the past year, he said, he’s watched well-to-do restaurant owners get exorbitant amounts of COVID relief money. Niche Hospitality and the Worcester Restaurant Group, for instance, each got more than a million dollars.
“The favorites got money, but if you wasn’t a favorite you didn’t get a fucking dime,” he said. “All the bigwigs got money. That’s they friends. But if you wasn’t part of that posse, fuck you. You get nothing.”
Delapara has a new location in mind, but it’s not certain and I don’t think my sharing it here will help him at all. He has a plan, but it’s a shaky one, and as a very small business, he doesn’t have the capital for a traditional brick and mortar location. Delapara, like many of the people who shared space at The Bridge, has a love for what he does and a dream to pursue it. He certainly doesn’t have Worcester Restaurant Group money, and The Bridge as a community center allowed him the space he needed to build his business.
I’ve talked with Delapara quite a bit over the years, and he’s open about his past as an addict and his road to recovery. The business and his dreams of growing it are as much a path out of a past life as they are a path to success in the restaurant world. Spend as much time around cooks as I have and it’s clear who cares and who doesn’t. Delapara is the kind of cook who really fucking cares. He puts his heart and soul into his product and we’ve talked at length about how cooking and his passion for it allowed him a way out of the cycle of addiction.
“I was a fucking crackhead in this fucking town. So I feel these politicians and all these motherfuckers who talk about how they want to help somebody, I’m the one you should want to help,” he said. “I’m that one crab that crawled out the fucking barrel trying to do better.”
Delapara planned to build out a mentorship program to help kids in the area struggling with what he went through to find the same sort of center he did. Now, he can’t think about that. He has to worry about keeping his own ship afloat.
Delapara is just one of more than a dozen fledgling enterprises The Bridge has fostered and maintained. There’s the El Salón art gallery, which lent a space to the work of majority BIPOC and female artists. There’s the Jubilee Career Center for the Performing Arts, an organization that educates neighborhood children through dance and art history. There’s Worcester Youth Cooperatives, which gets kids into activism and mutual aid. There’s Sidenote Programs, a visual arts collaborative that has documented much of what’s gone on at The Bridge. There’s StandUp For Kids, an organization that targets youth homelessness. There’s the Worcester Community Fridge, a brilliant take on mutual aid in which you take what you need and leave what you don’t. There’s Crash Course Creations, a vintage car workshop in which kids learn to restore old vehicles, simultaneously getting their foot in the door of a trade and building something cool as hell. There’s Worcide, a DIY skatepark that was destroyed in order for Polar Park to be constructed. They build their own ramps and features and bring in kids from the neighborhood to learn how to build and skate.
I hit up with Vanessa Calixto, who started El Salón, and she sent me a statement so perfect I don’t want to touch it.
The Bridge gave my ideas a home and a chance without me having to prove myself or have any connections or know anyone. That was something I always longed for, especially as a young person growing up here. It has been able to foster a sense of real community that I felt this city lacked. The kind that would literally give you the shirt off their backs if necessary. I know I wouldn’t have wanted to launch El Salón in any other place. El Salón is what it is because of the space The Bridge allowed it to take, to invite many creatives from all over Central Mass to just come together and celebrate one another.
I cherish all the moments spent there, like the late nights cleaning up the “gallery,” my friends skating upstairs, and watching movies on the projector. My grandmother used to work here when I was really little and I have memories of coming in to pick her up. This building from then on always stuck out to me. It felt really full circle twenty-plus years later to be welcomed in, to create in this building.
I’ve been prepping myself mentally. I have thoughts of my son and I driving by once it’s “developed” and him saying to me “Mom, remember when we used to dance around in there!” … Just the thought of that, the idea that it will no longer be accessible to us all, really breaks my heart. I know how hard everyone has worked to make that space what it is. It may not be clean-cut and modern but it’s beautiful to us and has housed a whole community and their ideas.
They had plans to bring in more groups, and put them all under the banner The Bridge Academy. They had plans for sustaining a mortgage on the property through payments from all of the groups. They tried and failed to get the city’s help via community block grants and historic designations. They tried and failed to meet with Dalfiour and make a counter offer on the property, or else try to convince them to take their money elsewhere. They tried and failed to raise a million dollars to save the property through donations, though they’re left with a nice chunk of change to put down on a new building, should they find one in this insane real estate market. You can still donate to that effort, by the way.
They made a valiant stand against gentrification. They lost.
John Powers, an organizer at The Bridge who came into the fold via Worcide, stopped by The Bridge as I talked to Delapara. We sat down and talked at length about the real estate market and gentrification and how we got to this point.
“The city’s idea of expanding availability of residential spaces and residential areas clearly includes mostly shopping it out to out-of-town developers to put in market-rate or above market-rate condos to raise the per-capita income of the area and make themselves look real nice in pamphlets so people want to move here and so on and so forth,” Powers said.
“We know the playbook, we’ve seen it fail a million times.”
Who, I asked, does that benefit?
“It benefits the real estate developers. It benefits the people who can afford to convince a bank that their gamble is better than the average homeowner‘s gamble. A lot of these companies have cash on hand to pay above asking price for local homeowners to cash in on the equity that they have that’s just exploded out of nowhere based on the speculations of the people who are buying their property in the first place. So it’s all just this one snake eating its tail.”
When the speculative bubble bursts, as it most surely will, there are going to be a lot of people stuck with mortgages they can’t afford, and a lot of developers stuck with projects they have approved but due to the market can’t get financing. Imagine that situation playing out with The Bridge. Dalfiour owns the building, they have their plans approved, but a market dip makes financing difficult and the building sits empty and unused for six or seven years, all of which The Bridge as it stands now would continue to thrive and grow without any influence or relationship to the mystical vagaries of the market. Just leaving that thought here for posterity in the all-too-likely event it happens.
But I don’t want to leave you on a downer note. This afternoon I called Dan Ford, organizer of Crash Course Creations and perhaps the person who has put the most time, money and energy into the dream of The Bridge Academy, and I found him surprisingly hopeful. When I asked him how he felt about The Bridge being over, he balked at the question.
“It ain’t never over,” he said.
The organizers are still meeting, they’re still looking for a new location—if not for everyone than various locations for all of the groups—and they’re still keeping the dream alive. More than a building, The Bridge is an idea, Ford said.
“It’s about the ‘we,’ not the ‘me.’ That’s it. If we all work together, it’s less weight we’re gonna have to pull. And each part of your life, or anybody else’s life, at some point, there’s some things that’s needed that are less easily obtained solely. So someone else can pick up the slack there,” he said.
Long live The Bridge.
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Oh also hey are you aware that to our south and west there is a state senator who is a fuckin’ psychopath? Ryan Fattman, a Sutton lad, held a rally last Wednesday with local law enforcement officers to celebrate the one year anniversary of his stalling the state police reform bill which of course did little to nothing of substance anyway. He basically held a rally to celebrate being performatively annoying and obstructive on a piece of legislation that came out so neutered anyway that it’s at best lip service. And that wasn’t something he can claim any sort of victory on, that was just the state Democratic Party being the state Democratic Party. But the cops, they love it folks. When Fattman says he doesn’t like the bill because it “doesn’t show support to police officers,” according to the Telegram, the cops lap that up. All politicians pander but no politician panders as hard as the one who unequivocally celebrates law enforcement as an immovable force for good in the world. This cultish worship of authority for its own sake is extremely present and palpable in Worcester and in the towns surrounding it. It’s obviously reactionary and dangerous and it’s not going anywhere and it blows. These are the people who decide elections around here, after all. These are the people who force sorta left leaning politicians like Worcester City Councilor Sean Rose to release gauche statements like this.
Statements that won’t appease anyone who bows at the altar of the Thin Blue Line. Statements that only show to those people weakness and a capitulation. They’ve already decided who their enemies are and they won’t have their minds changed. They are lost to anyone who does not worship at the same altar. They will never capitulate. Until they are outnumbered, nothing will change. Police departments have the hard power of state-sanctioned violence and the threat of it. They also have the soft power of a community of people around them, be it wives, children, parents, friends, etc. who refuse to acknowledge any problem at all with the criminal justice system and see any attempt at rectifying said problem as a personal attack. Through their influence in city elections, they act as a bulwark against reform.
It’s super cool!