Construction begins on Activate Mill Street
July 3, 2019 : Sentinel & Enterprise, by Daniel Monahan
Organizers envision haven for music, arts
FITCHBURG — On Monday, work began on a project to develop a space where music, art and people can co-exist on Mill Street, a busy downtown alley that connects Boulder Drive and Main Street.
Organizers of Activate Mill Street say that, when completed, the project will rejuvenate the alley between Main Street and Boulder Drive by adding a temporary park with seating and space for musical performances.
The goal of the project is to transform Mill Street back into the space it once was, said Francisco Torres, who is a MassDevelopment fellow working with the city.
Torres said many residents remember a time when the alleyway was a lively space for the city. The Activate Mill Street project seeks to revitalize the area both artistically and economically, he said.
"We wanted to bring back what would resonate with people," said Torres. "It was filled with art and was a vibrant place, but over time it has died down. We are hoping to spark that interest in people again."
Organizers say they hope the space becomes a new hub for the community.
"We're trying to increase foot traffic and bring businesses downtown," said Joe Ferguson, director of ReImagine North of Main. "Folks are excited about the possibility of what this could do for Fitchburg."
Ferguson said the park will be a low-cost, high-impact project for the city.
When construction on the project wraps up in a few weeks, residents will notice a wooden deck for performances, some movable turf, and planters.
Ferguson said art will also be a focus in the park; and, soon Mill Street will be lined with murals and decorative window treatments on nearby buildings.
In an effort to promote economic development, Torres says there will be space for vendors to sell food and goods.
"We're trying to prove to Fitchburg and businesses that they should reinvest in downtown," said Torres.
"I think this is a creative approach to economic and community development," said Ferguson. "We're trying to make it a space for everyone, but also highlight the creative skill and talent that Fitchburg already has."
The project is part of a partnership between MassDevelopment and the crowd funding platform Patronicity.
Through MassDevelopment's Commonwealth Places program, the Fitchburg State University Foundation and ReImagine North of Main aim to activate the space on Mill Street.
Commonwealth Places provides a funding source for community-driven placemaking projects in commercial districts throughout the state.
The program will provide a matching grant of up to $50,000 if the fundraising goal is reached.
The organizations set a goal to raise $40,000 from the community and exceeded that goal on June 29. MassDevelopment will match each dollar to help fund the approximately $80,000 project.
Activate Mill Street will take place within the city's Transformative Development Initiative District, which is a MassDevelopment program to drive economic growth in Gateway Cities like Fitchburg.
According to Ferguson, the city has be highly receptive to the idea of a park on Mill Street.
"It's been a very positive process and we've had community support all the way from the Fitchburg Police Department, Fire Department, and in Town Hall," said Ferguson. "We're really proud to be doing this work in partnership with the community."
Torres said there will be some programming scheduled on the street, but the space will be open to the community.
Though a schedule has not been set, he said there could be yoga classes or music series in the space.