PAWTUCKET — The new year could mean a more beautiful and vibrant downtown, thanks to an infusion of $50,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
The money for the streetscape enhancement project involves the design, purchase and installation of planters and other containers for flowers and plants, bike racks, trashcan enclosures and banners for Main Street between Dexter Street and Roosevelt Avenue. Supporters say the project will benefit downtown merchants and residents by making the area more appealing to live in and visit for shopping, eating, and conducting business.
According to Aaron Hertzberg, program director at the Pawtucket Foundation and manager of the project, the idea came about early last year when a group of downtown residents and business leaders brainstormed about ways to revitalize the central core of Main Street. The group decided to try and implement a streetscape enhancement project using Community Development Block Grant (CBGB) funds and approached the Pawtucket Foundation about applying as a fiscal agent and project coordinator.
Months later, the city was awarded the $50,000 grant, which will be further leveraged by additional funds from the Pawtucket Foundation and donations from Shri Studio, a downtown yoga school, to improve the physical character of Main Street.
Hertzberg said that the project team will work with a landscape design consultant to identify ideal and easy-to-care-for plants and greenery for the sidewalk planters and to come up with a maintenance plan for the area.
In addition, a local firm, Delin Design, is donating services to create street banners for the project. The banners will market the new “Experience Pawtucket” campaign intended to market the area as an attractive and inviting place to live, transact business and visit. The new items are scheduled for installation by this summer.
Hertzberg added that the streetscapes enhancement effort was aligned with the city's comprehensive master plan and the Pawtucket Foundation's strategy to adopt a multi-faceted “Main Street” approach for economic and business development in the downtown and along the riverfront. The four-point “Main Street” approach included organization and physical designs as cornerstones of revitalization. It also builds on principals and recommendations outlined in the recently completed Pawtucket Downtown Design Plan, he noted.
“The project is as much about improving public space as it is empowering local businesses and residents to work together for positive change,” said Hertzberg.
Alison Bologna, who owns Shri Studio in the McDevitt Building on Broad Street, said the streetscape idea came about after a Main Street eatery, Kafe Lila, closed its doors, and she and Michael Lozano, who owns the Grant Building on Main Street, were discussing how to make the downtown more appealing. “We were talking about the need to make the area lighter and brighter, and adding greenery,” she said. At her yoga studio, she began collecting signatures for a petition from others interested in beautifying the city that would serve to accompany the CBGB grant application.
Bologna said that she and her staff are committed to watering and maintaining the planters and other enhancements that are installed along the nearby block, and that other members of the downtown community have agreed to do the same. Bologna added that she even has a volunteer service program for those who can't afford to pay for yoga classes, and she plans to have these clients help with some of the streetscape improvement chores.
Bologna noted that Shri Studio has been in business for a year and a half now, and she is feeling a new sense of energy and optimism among others with a stake in the downtown. She noted that the McDevitt Building that houses her yoga studio is soon to be gaining another retail tenant, a gift shop dealing in “New Age” healing and revitalization merchandise. The two businesses will likely complement each other, she noted.
“I came up with the term 'urban revitalization yoga,' and it's been our intention, since moving in with the studio, to help contribute in positive ways to the downtown,” said Bologna. “I'm among those looking forward to breaking up the concrete with greenery and bringing color and light into the area,” she said.
Linda Dewing, of Places & Spaces Realty, a real estate broker who handles many downtown properties, is also among the supporters of a greener and more attractive streetscape in the downtown neighborhood. She said the additions of colorful banners hanging from poles, planters, new trash containers and other planned additions will “help make the downtown feel like it is popping.”
Dewing noted that while the growth is still modest, there has been an uptick in tenants filling the vacant spaces in the downtown area over the past year or so. In addition to Shri Studio, the All Nations Food Store just celebrated its one year in business on East Avenue, along with the Anchor Recovery Center on Main Street, and the Exeter Job Corps opened up at 10 Summer Street.
Additionally, a new women's clothing store, Chika's, just made its debut at 22 Montgomery Street, and the planned gift shop, called Seven Stones Emporium, is slated to open sometime next month. Over on Exchange Street, in the building owned by Morris and Phyllis Nathanson, a florist called Small Pleasures Ltd. has moved from its 20-year location on Hope Street to Pawtucket, with a grand opening planned in the coming weeks. On the other end of Main Street, the Cresta Bar and Ristorante recently opened its doors in the former Mad House Cafe site, a space that had been vacant for five years next to the Apex store.
“There seems to be an upturn in energy, especially coming from city officials. And I think there are a lot more people willing to take risks,” Dewing said. She added that there was also a lot of “positive energy” that came out of last Wednesday's meeting among stakeholders of the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center as they discussed its future.
That being said, Dewing noted that there are obviously many empty spaces in the downtown still waiting to be filled, with some properties in more “move-in” condition than others. Several downtown properties are languishing because there are code issues that would require a substantial investment in renovation while others are simply too high priced for the market, she said. However, especially for those looking to purchase property, she said, “buyers have figured out that Pawtucket is the place to be and now is the time to buy.”