PAWTUCKET — For the past decade, The Pawtucket Foundation has been pushing for a turn-around in the city's downtown, with the Blackstone River as the centerpiece. Now, the Foundation has unveiled a new strategic plan meant to show that, more than ever, it means business—in all senses of the word.
The Pawtucket Foundation is a comprised of a group of civic-minded community leaders representing the local business and not-for-profit sector in advocating for downtown, riverfront and transportation improvements. The group tries to help city leaders by mobilizing and coordinating research, information, talent and resources to positively impact the city.
To that end, the Foundation's board of directors recently approved a three-year strategic plan, titled “Envision Pawtucket.” The ambitious proposal is designed to show businesses who contribute funding two important things: their investment in the Foundation will have a meaningful impact, and there is a way to measure performance and accomplishment.
According to Thomas Mann, the Foundation's executive director, the Foundation has defined its primary geographic focus as the Pawtucket Downtown Growth Center. This area encompasses the entire riverfront, the downtown historic district, and the neighborhood around the Conant Street Industrial Park that is targeted for transit-oriented development. The Foundation defines its primary economic focus as identifying the key infrastructure and business development opportunities that lie within this growth center as well as in other sections of the city.
Mann noted that an important part of the effort is the assessment of an independent study called the Pawtucket Downtown Design Plan that an estimated $10-20 million in public infrastructure improvements are needed to reposition the city as a key player in the region's economy. He said that the Envision Pawtucket strategic plan will work to complement the efforts of city leaders and to rally private sector support. He added that it also will help people to visualize “the big picture” that is thought to be possible for the city in the years ahead.
Among the four main goals outlined in Envision Pawtucket is a plan to adopt a multi-faceted “Main Street” approach for economic and business development in the downtown and along the riverfront. This strategy involves implementing a formal Business Development Program by purchasing national membership and using a model called the “Four-Point Main Street Approach” as identified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This would involve the formation of several different committees which would be charged with various duties and responsibilities.
Some of the tactics suggested include the creation of a specific website, called “downtownpawtucket.com” to promote key downtown activities, festivals, municipal projects and resources, and the formation of a business association to initiate and oversee streetscape improvements and work with the city's Department of Public Works to help maintain them.
An additional idea includes fostering an improvement in the physical character of the downtown by providing design assistance for business facades and signage, partnering with the city in an advisory capacity on large infrastructure projects, and improving the permitting and design review process.
Also suggested is the creation of a land improvement stewardship program for targeted areas through the establishment of a fund using public/private donations and grants, and a coordinated economic restructuring effort to determine the best uses for underutilized city land though marketing studies, discussion groups and by partnering with the Pawtucket Business Development Corporation.
A second goal of the strategic plan is to facilitate real estate development and redevelopment in the downtown, in the Conant Street Industrial Park, along the riverfront and around McCoy Stadium. This would be done by identifying the market demand for future housing, retail, office and other appropriate uses, and also by increasing the residential and commercial density in the downtown. It would additionally require identifying public/private finance solutions for development, redevelopment and/or rehabilitation, and getting elected officials on board with these solutions, and coordinating necessary infrastructure and public improvements to support this development.
To achieve this, Envision Pawtucket suggests there must be a master development plan and a public/private financing strategy for targeted areas: the Roosevelt Avenue District/Riverfront (north), Tidewater/Riverfront (south), Armory Arts District, and Transit-Oriented Development and Industrial Park District, Downtown Retail District and around McCoy Stadium.
Tactics include conducting a market analysis for designated districts, assisting the city in an advisory role in the selection of developers, networking with real estate, finance and design professionals to promote development opportunities, and partnering with housing developers and community action groups to expand Pawtucket's housing supply in the downtown and along the riverfront.
Envision Pawtucket lists a third and vital goal of The Pawtucket Foundation as being an advocate for transportation, public infrastructure, public space and private property improvements in target areas that will enhance the economic viability of Pawtucket.
Some of the keys projects for the Foundation to throw its support behind include the creation of a new MBTA commuter rail stop at Barton Street, the design and completion of the Blackstone Valley Bike Path, and improved bus services, including a “rapid bus” route and bus turn-around at the South Attleboro MBTA station. Improved street design and connector roads and better traffic circulators, along with the addition of sustainable urban parks and more green spaces and other amenities should also be encouraged, the plan states.
The strategy calls for organizing a “Center of Influence” and education events aimed at informing and influencing public and private leaders on key policy issues related to the transportation mission. These include holding lectures and hosting programs and seminars on retail development and land use, lobbying state and federal leaders for funding for key transportation projects, and partnering with local colleges and universities to support student projects that deal with urban policy and planning.
The fourth goal of Envision Pawtucket involves striving to achieve efficient, streamlined governance of the Foundation's organization with clear, mission-focused roles and defined resources for its board of directors, staff and volunteers.
To achieve this, the plan calls for empowering the Foundation's executive board and standing committees to focus on networking, improving policy documents, board recruitment and marketing the organization. Among the internal changes suggested are the hosting of events to encourage greater networking, participation and fundraising; developing marketing materials to “brand” the Foundation and increase its visibility; and launching an aggressive business contact solicitation campaign to grow the Foundation's e-mail distribution list.