Grants to help area downtowns recover from pandemic

  • Stores on Main Street in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Shops on Avenue A in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Stores on Main Street in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Shops on Avenue A in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Shops on Avenue A in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Downtown Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 3/25/2021 3:59:44 PM

Six Franklin County communities are among the 125 across Massachusetts set to split $9.5 million in state-issued awards aimed at alleviating some of the COVID-19 pandemic’s crippling effects on local downtown areas.

Through the Local Rapid Recovery Planning Program, cities and towns will partner with consultants to devise creative strategies to foster revitalization. The program is part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Partnerships for Recovery Plan.

The Franklin County communities are Greenfield, Montague, Sunderland, Northfield, Shelburne and Buckland. The grants, which were around $30,000, were awarded based on the size of the community.

According to the state, more than 15,000 small businesses across Massachusetts will benefit from this money.

“As we continue to navigate the pandemic and work toward recovery, our administration remains committed to collaborating with the local officials that know their communities best to address their unique challenges,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito in a prepared statement. “We are grateful to our municipal colleagues for their continued partnership, and look forward to these funds supporting plans that help cities and towns best leverage their local assets to help residents and businesses thrive.”

Greenfield

Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams said the city will receive $90,000 worth of consulting from Peg Beranger, of FinePoint Associates in Brookline, to determine the city’s priorities and which efforts should be taken to help small businesses downtown.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Adams said, adding that she plans to meet with Beranger this week. “I feel like we have a leg up because she knows our downtown well.”

The initial component of the program includes a survey of owners or managers of commercial businesses, both for-profits and nonprofits, even if the business is temporarily closed.

“At this point in time, we need to be doing everything possible to support the reopening and post-pandemic recovery of our businesses, downtown and commercial districts in Greenfield,” Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said. “I strongly encourage all pertinent business owners and/or managers to complete this survey immediately to help with these important efforts.”

“Good, current data — that’s what will strengthen our ability to move forward with a solid understanding of the needs of our local businesses and organizations as we make a game plan to recover from the pandemic’s economic impact,” Adams said.

The survey asks a few questions about each business’ characteristics and satisfaction with location, the impacts of COVID-19, and opinions regarding potential strategies to support each business and improve the commercial district. Managers and/or business owners are encouraged to complete the survey as soon as possible at bit.ly/3d0IirD.

Review the map of Greenfield’s downtown study area at bit.ly/3cfcNuU. For more information or help, call 413-772-1548 or email Adams at mj.adams@greenfield-ma.gov.

Montague

Revitalization of downtown Turners Falls will be the aim of a Rapid Recovery project granted to Montague. The project will include opportunities for public engagement, and will especially seek to work with business owners in Turners Falls, said Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey.

“It’s not planning for planning’s sake,” Ramsey said. “It’s really to identify concrete action items that can happen. And not only to identify those items, but to advance them.”

Working with a consultant over the course of about 15 weeks, the town government and stakeholders will aim to design projects that can realistically be executed within about three to six months, Ramsey said. These might include simple issues like availability of parking in the area, or new town government policies for working with local businesses, he said.

“Hopefully it will be a platform for businesses to get back together. There’s been a bit of a disconnect over the last year,” Ramsey said. “This will hopefully be a good momentum builder for the downtown.”

The consultation is worth $60,000. Montague has been assigned to the consultant Dan Hodge, of Hodge Economic Consulting in Northampton. Town Administrator Steve Ellis noted that the town has worked with Hodge previously.

“This of course is a critical direction for us to be going in, as a town, as we recover from the pandemic,” said Selectboard member Michael Nelson.

Buckland and Shelburne

Jessica Atwood, economic development program manager at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said FRCOG has been contracted by the state to work with Buckland and Shelburne, as part of the Local Rapid Recovery Planning Program.

“We’re just launching the program, currently,” she said. “It will include a survey of the businesses and organizations located in the village study center area. It will include public meetings about priorities for reopening and recovering the economy.”

The information being collected at the local level, which will continue through August — at which point a plan will be developed — will then be collected by the state, Atwood said. The state, then, will provide guidance on how the towns should move forward.

“I think the plans will be helpful in identifying key recommendations that can be implemented in the short term to help these village centers and downtowns revitalize during the pandemic as it continues,” she said.

Northfield

According to Town Administrator Andrea Llamas, the Local Rapid Recovery Planning Program grant will provide roughly $30,000 to pay for a consultant assigned by the state.

Joan and Steve Stoia, presidents of the Northfield Area Tourism and Business Association (NATABA), and owners of the Centennial House Bed and Breakfast, said this grant came to fruition thanks to the support of Llamas and Town Hall. Other local business leaders who also participated in this “win” are Mary Bowen of the Northfield Creamie; John MacDougall of John MacDougall Financial Services; Shelby Snow of Northfield Golf Club; and David Thomas of Stellar Kayaks.

The consultant will develop a business survey, and NATABA will distribute the survey to area business owners, and those with serious business proposals. Llamas said the consultant will use this survey to develop a plan and actionable items.

The business owners and managers are asked to complete the surveys by April 12. Nonprofits and cultural institutions are invited to participate as well. A public online information session on the grant will be available in the coming weeks or months.

While the damage from the pandemic is visible on Main Street and beyond, Joan and Steve Stoia said Northfield’s business community has also suffered from natural and other difficulties, like illness, retirement and financial distress. The results are a relatively large number of empty businesses and properties with uncertain futures. The Stoias say this provides opportunity, as the town is poised to benefit from positive changes if residents are able to attract local entrepreneurs, or people who have always wanted to open a business.

One project that will be undertaken during the consultancy and with the permission of owners and/or landlords, is the listing of these properties on a convenient flier and website, the Stoias said. With a new Schell Bridge on the horizon, the projections of visitors to that bridge and Northfield — as per a Unversity of Massachusetts study — suggest that the town will benefit economically from the bridge, if the town can help bring amenities downtown.

The addition of more students at Thomas Aquinas College and consistent Moody Center programming to its calendar will also create a steady flow of visitors.

Business owners should contact the Stoias at 413-498-5921 to get a copy of the survey, or check with them for other distribution points.

Sunderland

Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz said the planning grant aims to prioritize a review of zoning and regulations, and how the town can increase outdoor dining and retail.

“We also included wayfinding and district branding and potentially shared advertising,” he said. “Given the number of restaurants we had, and obviously the impact the pandemic has had on the restaurant industry, we want to see if there’s anything we can do to make it easier to expand the season to offer outdoor dining and see what the technical assistants can come up with.”

The town will work with OverUnder, a Boston-based landscape and urban design firm, according to Kravitz.

He said this kind of program with the state is “very helpful” and he hopes one of the things the consultants will be able to do is identify other potential grant opportunities, or stimulus and COVID-19-related funds that can be passed along to the businesses.

“I feel like grants for planning are not the norm,” Kravitz said. “So the fact that the state is offering this is really helpful.”




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