Successful downtowns in the Commonwealth are “the product of smart planning, partnerships, and comprehensive efforts across transportation, housing, small business development, and much more.” That was the message delivered by DHCD undersecretary Janelle Chan and many others at the Massachusetts Downtown Summit.
On Monday October 1st, leaders in economic development and downtown revitalization from across Massachusetts convened at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center for a day-long, interactive summit to share best practices, network, and learn.
The 2018 MA Downtown Summit brought together practitioners, professionals, and communities to talk everything downtown and share best practices. The event was hosted by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the Department of Housing and Community Development in partnership with the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative.
Among the speakers for the opening remarks were Mayor William Samaras, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, and Chan.
“We understand that a vibrant downtown includes great district management, public parks, recreation, housing, and availability and access for all,” the DHCD undersecretary continued in her remarks.
City Manager Donoghue spoke about the role of parking in downtown, dating back to her time on the Lowell City Council in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“I come from a time when people thought downtown revitalization was almost impossible,” the Mayor noted during his welcoming remarks. “People thought it would never happen. ‘How could you ever compete with the malls’? But if you look at what has happened to the malls today, I think its going to be impossible for them to compete with whats going on in the downtowns”
The summit featured speakers, thought leaders, and panelists with extensive expertise in commercial and residential downtown development, placemaking, wayfinding and branding, and more. The summit built on previous workshops hosted by the MDI program, which have been extremely popular and well received, and provide the opportunity for networking among town planners, local officials, and downtown revitalization partners.
“I’m proud of our work across the Baker-Polito Administration to encourage comprehensive downtown revitalization strategies, and today’s summit highlighted a number of inspiring efforts going on in communities across Massachusetts,”said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash in a press release following the summit. “We are here to seed catalytic projects and shovel-ready transformative development to strengthen communities, enliven neighborhoods and ensure Massachusetts remains an amazing place to raise a family and put down roots.”
The Massachusetts Downtown Initiative offers a range of services and assistance to communities seeking help on how to revitalize their downtowns. The primary mission of the MDI is to make downtown revitalization an integral part of community development in cities and towns across the Commonwealth. MDI’s guiding principles are that the most effective approach to downtown revitalization is a holistic one; that it addresses economic and community development needs; and that it provides a framework of interrelated activities that promote positive change in a downtown to keep it healthy and prosperous.
Summit workshops included a wide range of downtown development topics. The opening session focused on District management topics:
- Business Improvement Districts: What are they, how do you form a BID and building consensus for success.
- District Management: BIDS in MA are making a difference in downtowns.
- Volunteer Based Programs: How communities are making voluntary districts work over time.
- Parking Benefit Districts (PBD): What are they? Two approaches to creating a PBD.
- Hybrids: CDC hybrids as a solution for communities seeking innovative approaches to challenging properties in downtowns.
- DIF: District Improvement Financing (DIF) as a tool for downtown development.
Afternoon breakout sessions focused on a variety topics in the areas of Design, Economic Development, Branding & Wayfinding, Downtown Mobility, Housing, and Small Business Support.