On February 7, 2019 Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Janelle Chan joined local officials to announce $300,000 in awards to 20 communities through the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative (MDI).
The Massachusetts Downtown Initiative provides communities with $15,000 grants to pursue projects that support downtown development and encourage growth. Since 2015, the Baker-Polito Administration has awarded more than $1 million to over 30 communities through the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative.
“Vibrant downtown districts that support housing, small businesses and amenities help to strengthen communities by driving local economies and attracting talent,” said Governor Charlie Baker.
“Through programs like MDI, we’ve seen the impact a successful downtown district can have on cities and towns and the importance of enhancing existing programming as well as developing others, to create new resources for municipal officials to utilize,” he added,
The Massachusetts Downtown Initiative (MDI) provides municipalities with resources to engage expert consultants on downtown revitalization. Consultants may provide technical assistance in one of seven areas, including district management, design, downtown economics, housing, branding & wayfinding, downtown mobility, and small business support.
“Last fall, I joined municipal officials at the 2018 Downtown Summit, and was thrilled to see the momentum building in both small towns and larger urban centers investing in their downtown districts,” said Polito. “Our administration is committed to partnering with our municipalities, and providing powerful tools to help communities plan and execute on projects that will fuel long-term growth through walkable, lively downtown spaces.”
Communities may undertake a number of eligible activities through this grant program, including planning exercises, parking management strategy development, and new branding and signage to enhance their downtown.
In October, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative hosted the 2018 Massachusetts Downtown Summit in Lowell. The event brought together local officials, technical experts, and stakeholders to share best practices related to downtown revitalization and development. Workshops and panels explored successful strategies that cities and towns have used to promote downtown districts, and attracted nearly 200 participants.
“Massachusetts depends on strong cities and towns to fuel our collective success, and through flexible programming like MDI, MassWorks, our Collaborative Workspace program, and more, we support projects that leverage private investment and local commitments,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “I want to congratulate all 20 of today’s awardees for their work in planning for the long-term success of their communities, and engaging with our agencies and consultants to pursue these high-impact projects.”
More recently, the Baker-Polito Administration has also proposed a new downtown district coordination grant program in the FY20 budget proposal. This proposal would promote regional cooperation among cities and towns undertaking revitalization efforts, building on MDI to provide enhanced technical assistance to municipal officials.
“Dynamic downtown districts are more than one restaurant, or one store — they are the heart of a community, providing a place for neighbors to live, gather, work, and thrive,” said Chan. “Through MDI and other technical assistance, we are eager to partner with communities to promote new housing production, small businesses success, and smart-growth strategies in their downtown districts to benefit all residents.”
“The Town of Topsfield is very appreciative for this State grant from the Downtown Initiative Program as it will accelerate the revitalization of the town center that began with the renovation of our 146 year-old town hall,” said Topsfield Town Administrator Kellie Hebert.
“Topsfield is a small town with big city pride. Residents delight in its open public spaces with the convenience of suburban rural living but have grown concerned over the deterioration of the downtown business district,” said Selectman Lynne Bermudez.
The administration has awarded close to $275 million in MassWorks grants to support 138 projects in 106 communities in the same time period. These programs, in addition to affordable housing awards, the Housing Development Incentive Program, the Collaborative Workspace Program, the Economic Development Incentive Program, and further technical assistance programming provide communities with a suite of tools to further local development goals.
“Thriving communities depend on the ability of consumers to navigate vibrant downtowns,” said Senator Joan Lovely. “I am grateful to the Baker-Polito Administration for providing assistance through the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative to Topsfield so that the town can have increased capacity to manage its parking, which will help Topsfield do an even better job of meeting the economic needs of residents and businesses alike.”
The Massachusetts Downtown Initiative is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development, and funded by the Community Development Block Grant program.
“I want to thank Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito, Secretary Kennealy, and Undersecretary Chan for their commitment to our communities,” said Representative Brad Hill. “This award will help Topsfield revitalize our downtown and attract new visitors and businesses.”
Photo of the Draper Mill in Milford, Massachusetts (one of the awarded towns) copyright John Davenport Photography.