The Recorder – Report will information Greenfield’s downtown revitalization
GREENFIELD – A new report that will lead Greenfield into the future and inform the city’s sustainable master plan focuses on the city’s downtown area. Mayor Roxann Wedegartner says an anchor business is a priority to help revitalize this area.
The Greenfield Downtown business district assessment and market analysis, funded by the State Department of Housing and Community Development’s Massachusetts Downtown Initiative, surveyed and interviewed businesses, organizations, and residents about the downtown area.
“It has given us some good data to work with as we move forward,” said MJ Adams, director of community and economic development. “Surveys were conducted in the middle of COVID, and 798 residents and users in the city center answered them. The results give the city a roadmap of information to help them understand what to do, change, and where to go from here. “
“I’ve read the report and I like it a lot,” said Wedegartner. “It’s pretty accurate. People who responded (to surveys) made some interesting observations. There isn’t much of a departure from what I’ve heard anecdotally. “
Wedegartner emphasized that the city center needed an anchor store, with the focus on the revitalization of the former Wilson’s department store on Main Street. The Franklin Community Co-op, which operates Green Fields Market in Greenfield and McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls, had expressed interest in expanding, but allowed their MOU to expire after the pandemic began.
“Maybe the cooperative will decide to move in there and give the customers more options, maybe the building will be brought to market, maybe the owner will work with a developer, or maybe something else will happen,” Wedegartner said.
“A great tool” for moving forward
Downtown Greenfield is filled with arts and cultural sites, cafes, retail stores, social services, and more. The pandemic has affected everyone, but the city wants to return to some kind of normalcy. While the mayor said it was nice to have offices and services downtown, most of them shouldn’t be at street level. Instead, she believes retail stores should be on store fronts.
Adams said an interesting piece of data is that there is a strong cluster of “vintage, recycle” all over Greenfield – consignment stores, comics, records, antiques, collectors – and that makes the city unique.
“Greenfield is also very focused on wellness, fitness and recreation, and the environment,” said Adams. The next step is to take the information from the report, formulate a plan, update the 2003 downtown revitalization plan, and begin implementation.
“In these uncertain times, we think about how to safely reopen and move forward so that we don’t rush things,” said Adams.
The report includes an assessment of the property and business conditions, including contributions from business owners. A market analysis, including consumer patterns and preferences, was also carried out.
“The report is a great tool to attract retailers and others,” said Wedegartner. “We want our inner city to be attractive, to attract people who work there, shop there and want to live there. We want to continue the things we did during the pandemic like outdoor dining, public art installations. We also want to redesign Court Square and put some tables in the common room so people can have takeout and lunch there. “
Wedegartner said her only disappointment was that the report did not spend enough time looking into demographics. For example, she said, she would like to know what role private schools play in the city center.
“These people – students, visiting parents, etc. – come to the area regularly,” she said. “You are looking for unique shops and favorite chains and restaurants. We could use this type of information in developing our marketing plan. “
The mayor said the good news is that Greenfield has just learned from the state that grants for downtown revitalization will be available for cities and towns in the near future.
“We have an up-to-date report showing them. That will help us a lot,” she said. “We definitely hope to receive some of these grants.”
Among the data collected in the report is that the inner city contains 286 commercial units (at the time of the inventory in September 2020). At the time, there were 35 vacancies, with Wilson’s department store leaving a “large” vacancy.
There are approximately 251 facilities in the downtown area, including retail, dining, recreational, services, and other facilities. About 75 percent are independent companies with a single location. Ten percent are chains and franchises and 15 percent are non-profit organizations or public institutions.
More than half of these establishments (58 percent) are services, 17 percent are retailers and 14 percent are restaurants, so that 11 percent fall into the “other” category. The 42 retailers include several grocery and beverage stores, large drugstores, an optics store, a few clothing and jewelry stores, gift stores, sporting goods, toy and book stores, and several vintage and second-hand stores.
In the city center there are 27 restaurants with different price ranges. Nineteen of these serve alcohol, and six restaurants usually have outdoor seating. Some others did so in warmer temperatures during the pandemic.
One of its unique features, the report says, is the downtown arts and entertainment options, which include an independent movie theater, a performing arts center, and some small performance rooms for live entertainment.
The courthouse, law firms, and many social welfare offices are also located in downtown buildings. There is also the John W. Olver Transit Center with bus and rail links, a new parking garage on Olive Street, green spaces / parks, a library (a new one is being built), a town hall, banks, a post office and a YMCA.
“The city center is a major employment center,” the report said. While there is an exact number, it is estimated that the city center has more than 2,200 employees, including full-time and part-time workers, based on company survey results.
“The good news,” said Adams, “is that companies had increased sales in the three years leading up to the pandemic.”
Some of the respondents’ complaints were about parking-related issues such as aggressive ticketing; Loitering and drugs, including drunk people hanging out downtown; and empty, shabby shop windows and buildings. Other complaints related to no evening activities, insufficient shops, and no anchor shops or destinations.
“We are already working on parking problems such as aggressive ticketing,” said Wedegartner.
Respondents saw some of the benefits and positives of downtown Greenfield’s proximity to complementary businesses, accessible location, walkability, friendly and supportive residents, available parking, and reasonable rents and costs. Wedegartner was delighted with so many positive comments about downtown Greenfield.
For more information or the full report, visit bit.ly/3oEtu5Y.
Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or [email protected]