Promoting a Vibrant Village Business District
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Past reporting in the Cricket has provided on-going updates on the Local Rapid Recovery Program, an initiative of the State to help businesses recover from the major disruptions of the pandemic. Manchester and Essex teamed up in a successful joint application to the State for consulting services that facilitated discussions in each community about what action steps could be taken to bolster local business recovery and long-term stability. Now that the study phase is complete, steps are being taken to move into the implementation phase
Group discussions, surveys and public forums took place this past summer and fall as part of the fact finding, brainstorming and recommendation formulation efforts. A comprehensive report, which can be found on the Town’s web site, analyzed the business climate and dynamics in both communities. They found strong synergies between the two communities – often customers will visit businesses in both towns. Of course, a good portion of the customer base comes from residents of the communities, but it is critical to the success of our local businesses to draw in customers from elsewhere as well.
The final report listed 8 potential action steps that Manchester should consider as we move forward with concrete steps that help our local shops recover from the pandemic. At the Selectmen’s meeting on November 15, the Board reviewed these 8 along with the priorities expressed by our business owners, and residents who served on the steering committee for the study. The State has asked participating communities to advance 2 or 3 projects for which the State will help find funding.
The Selectmen concluded that the top three projects to advance are:
- Placemaking and Wayfinding: Develop a placemaking plan for the Village core covering sidewalk layouts, greenspace, outdoor dining options, parking management and consistent, helpful and inviting signage to help visitors easily navigate the Village area. The plan would include Phase II of the Downtown Improvement Committee with its focus on lighting and sidewalk improvements along Union, Central, Summer and Beach Streets picking up where Phase I ended.
- Off-Season Events: Establish new winter and spring events that draw people to the central Village area increasing foot traffic to local shops while providing fun and entertainment. A range of ideas could be further developed tapping into seasonal themes and/or the unique mix of what our local shops have to offer.
- Public Restrooms possibly in conjunction with a Harbormaster office on the water: Business owners, residents and the Downtown Improvement Committee have ranked the desire for public restrooms in the Village core area a high priority. A group of residents had begun to examine options for a combined harbormaster office/public restroom facility either tucked along the railroad tracks at Reed Park or near Morss Pier in Masconomo Park. COVID interrupted their efforts, but the Selectmen would like to restart the planning process to advance this concept.
With these three priorities identified, staff will follow-up with the State’s Funding Resource Team to see what options exist for funding to help pay for the implementation of these priorities. It is also possible to use some of the funds the Town is receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). On-going public discourse through working groups, public forums, and presentations to the Board of Selectmen will unfold over the next 6 months or so. While it is important to conduct a thorough planning process, the Selectmen are eager to show early successes and they want to make sure at least some actionable steps will be completed by late winter. Town Planner Sue Brown and the Downtown Improvement Committee will be helping to coordinate the efforts and welcome your input.
A vibrant village center requires careful nurturing. Most importantly, local businesses need your patronage. Be sure to spend time shopping locally this holiday season.