Holyoke Chamber will use grant to address vacant lots in downtown

February 15, 2024 : MassLive, Aprell May Munford

Funding for economic development has been made available for business to help revitalize blighted buildings in Holyoke. Currently, Holyoke Chamber is working with Wayfinders to transform the former Essex house, for cultural events, make it spaces and pop-up shops. Don Treeger

HOLYOKE — Food trucks, local bands, yoga in the park, green spaces and cultural activities will soon fill vacant lots in the area along High Street thanks to a state grant given to the Greater Holyoke Chamber.

The Chamber was one of 13 organizations recently awarded a MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative grant for efforts to support small businesses.

The grant of $125,000 will help revitalize the vacant lots and improve the aesthetic in the economic development zone that runs from High Street, along Interstate 391, to Suffix and Dwight streets, said Jordan Hart, executive director of Greater Holyoke Chamber.

Businesses in the development zone will also get funding to improve storefront lighting and acquire sidewalk tables and chairs. The grant will help fund the pickup of trash containers.

The projects are “high-impact, low-cost improvements,” MassDevelopment said in its announcement of the award.

With the new look, the Greater Holyoke Chamber hopes to break stigmas about visiting downtown Holyoke, Hart said.

MassDevelopment grants for the small-business support programs are locally developed, managed and tailored to the needs of individual communities.

MassDevelopment Transformative Development Initiative fellow Kevin Moforte, who has been with the Holyoke Chamber for over three years, has helped to develop the High Street Business Association, Hart said.

The advisory group is representative of the neighborhood. They meet, assess needs and then help to lead the way in bringing new developments to High Street, she said.

In addition, with the funding, some economic development assistance has been made available for businesses to help revitalize blighted buildings, that the city of Holyoke otherwise does not have the capacity to address, Hart said.

Currently, Holyoke Chamber is working with housing nonprofit Way Finders to transform the former Essex House at 400 High St. for cultural events, make-it spaces and pop-up shops, Hart said.

This is the second round of funding the Holyoke Chamber has received. The last round of funding went to support different storefront improvements to Paper City Fabrics and Old San Juan Bakery among others.

The Transformative Development Initiative is an economic development program for the downtowns and commercial districts of Gateway Cities.

Through this round of funding, MassDevelopment has awarded about $1.63 million across the state for storefront improvements, marketing campaigns, and technical assistance to strengthen small business growth and retention in Gateway Cities.

“Our small businesses are crucial investors in our economy and workforce, contributing to the development of an inclusive economy in Massachusetts,” said Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao, who chairs MassDevelopment’s board of directors.

“With grants from the Transformative Development Initiative program, we empower small business owners and entrepreneurs to continue to grow and bolster our Gateway City downtowns,” Hao said.

Since 2015, MassDevelopment has invested $38 million in Transformative Development Initiative districts with technical assistance, real estate investments, grant programs, and fellows who work in the districts.