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Two Proposals May Turn Tide in Downtown

October 24, 2010: The Boston Globe, by Michele Morgan Bolton

A pair of downtown development initiatives with a potential $100-million-plus impact got Brockton’s attention recently at a time when local foreclosure rates are the highest in the state and the beleaguered city’s unemployment rate has risen to more than 10 percent.

Officials hope the public and private proposals, announced independently by the state and Trinity Financial of Boston, might finally spell relief for the once-bustling shoe manufacturing power now known for stretches of empty buildings and storefronts, as well as violent crime.

Under the state plan announced by Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, Brockton would benefit from more than $200,000 in grants and assistance. Money would go to cleaning up and redeveloping industrially polluted brownfield sites, as well as revitalizing downtown and troubled neighborhoods like the Campello, where foreclosures are particularly high.

Murray named Brockton a pilot community through the state Brownfields Support Team Initiative during an Oct. 14 news conference at the Brockton Brightfields, a 27-acre, photovoltaic power plant on Grove Street. The plant sits on the remediated property of a 19th-century gasworks that was abandoned in 1963 but now has new life as one of the nation’s largest “green’’ endeavors on a former Superfund site. Officials said the Brockton Brightfields is symbolic of the possibilities of revitalization.

Also on Oct. 14, officials revealed a proposal by Trinity Financial to pump $100 million into downtown redevelopment, including 6,000 square feet of retail and 37,000 square feet of commercial space, and almost 220 residential rental units on Main Street near the commuter rail station.

The company is expected to present details of its plan to the City Council on Nov. 15.

Dedham-based Economic Development Finance Corp. and its subsidiaries had a $91 million redevelopment plan for that same area but dropped it last year after the secretary of state’s office filed an administrative complaint alleging the company and its subsidiaries swindled senior citizens out of more than $2 million by selling unsecured, risky promissory notes through an unregistered broker.

Brockton Mayor Linda M. Balzotti said she is thrilled and thankful for the latest initiatives, which she called “invaluable’’ in invigorating the city and increasing its commercial tax base.

In the case of Trinity Financial, Balzotti said the company has a good track record with similar redevelopment in Lowell.

“Brockton’s downtown didn’t get the way it is overnight,’’ she said, calling the potential Trinity project “a very big cog in a very big wheel that, if successful, will help us by example to bring in other businesses.’’

As a pilot community with the state project, Brockton will work with the Department of Environmental Protection, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and MassDevelopment to list sites that could benefit from state and federal remediation assistance. Such redevelopment will boost local and regional economies, Murray said in a statement.

Further, the state will pay $50,000 for MassDevelopment to help with development of master plans and economic development strategies for downtown.

“Based on our experience working with communities, we anticipate great things to come for downtown Brockton,’’ said MassDevelopment’s president and CEO, Robert L. Culver.

Most state assistance comes in a $165,000 Community Services Special Projects Block Grant, of which $90,000 will let the Brockton 21st Century Corporation, a nonprofit economic development agency run with city money, hire a planner specifically for the Campello neighborhood, which runs along Route 28.

Another $45,000 in grant money goes to South Coastal Counties Legal Services to support foreclosure-related legal services for low-income residents in Campobello, officials said.

And Brockton Interfaith Community, a nonprofit coalition of houses of worship and community groups, will use the final $30,000 to hire someone to get the community engaged, said Janine Carreiro, its lead organizer.

She said news of the revitalization initiatives is being greeted with optimism and caution in the community, particularly when it comes to the grant.

“We have never received money from a government entity,’’ Carreiro said. “And we had no idea this was coming.’’

According to state Department of Housing and Community Development official Tina Brooks, plans are to turn the tide in targeted neighborhoods like the Campello, “one home, one block, and one neighborhood at a time.’’ To do that, the agency will start with a one-block area particularly hard hit by foreclosure. It will target resources and technical assistance to “stabilize the neighborhood, encourage reinvestment, increase access to affordable housing opportunities, and encourage economic stability of the residents,’’ she said.

On Thursday, the focus on the city’s economic recovery widened when Murray and other state officials returned to make two other announcements.

First was that Brockton’s family-owned Montilio’s Baking Co. will receive $60,000 in short-term financing for expansion — the first to benefit from the new Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, which is investing $35 million in small businesses.

Then, officials joined with Bernardi Brockton LLC to break ground in Brockton on new Honda and Hyundai automotive dealerships expected to create more than 125 permanent jobs and immediate construction job opportunities.

That project was jumpstarted by a $16 million Recovery Zone Facility Bond, issued to the company on the state’s behalf by MassDevelopment, along with conventional financing.

Carreiro and others said the state’s support is a clear acknowledgement that Brockton desperately needs help.

Timing is critical, she added: “More than 120 new foreclosure notices went out last month to Brockton residents. And another 20 families lost their homes.’’

Change doesn’t come easily, Carreiro said, but working together it does come eventually.

“It won’t be next year,’’ she said. “But five years down the line, people will stop looking at Brockton as a place not to go, and instead as somewhere to live with their families.’’

© Copyright 2010 The Boston Globe.