In a little office, big dreams for downtown Fall River
March 6, 2020 : The Herald News, by Peter Jasinski
FALL RIVER — Could the rejuvenation of Fall River’s downtown start in the humble former offices of a tax consulting business?
333 South Main St. is a small, unimposing storefront. It’s only got one window. Looking out from the inside, you see the busy intersection of Columbus Square. Looking in from the outside, you see Jim McKeag, who eagerly awaits any visitor interested in coming in off the street.
“This is just the first step,” McKeag said. “This is a promotion thing in saying that we want to make that connection and get people to psychologically start thinking about Fall River in a different way.”
McKeag is an economic development coordinator employed through the state’s Transformative Development Initiative, run through MassDevelopment. He’s in the midst of a two-year effort to spur economic growth and revitalization on a portion of South Main Street that spans Government Center to Union Street.
In recent months, the program has held meetings and focus groups with local business owners to learn what they would like to see improved on the street and how they could be helped in making their businesses prosper. Now, with McKeag’s repurposing of 333 South Main St., the goal is to get in touch with the residents, shoppers and workers of Fall River to see what they want.
A grand opening in May has been loosely planned for what McKeag describes as a multi-purpose space. Following some possible renovations, visitors would be greeted by a small coffee bar and a row of shelves displaying locally made products available for purchase.
“There could maybe be a few seats where people could sit and work. There’d be free Wi-Fi so you could come and hang out,” said McKeag.
Visitors may come for coffee and locally produced goods, but the hope is they will stay for the questionnaires or the informal conversations with McKeag.
Thus far, residents and downtown passersby have drifted in through a series of open houses. On one of several maps on a wall, visitors can take colored stickers and place them along the South Main Street spaces where they work, shop or live. There’s also a sticker they can place on areas where they want to see further investment, helping guide the areas on which McKeag and local partners hope to focus.
McKeag pointed to a cluster of stickers in Columbia Square, as well as a grouping along an alleyway that runs between The Cultural Center and Adagio Piano Lounge. He explained that visitors have told him the alley is a popular cut-through between businesses on South Main Street and parking on Pearl Street, but many would like to see it better lit and less covered with graffiti.
In addition to specific areas, visitors are also being asked to narrow the focus of McKeag’s work on what types of improvements they’d like to see. Changes such as façade updates, decorative lighting and the creation of regularly held events appear to be gaining momentum based on the reviews left by visitors so far.
The storefront is also a space where city residents can learn more about the various public space improvement proposals collaborated on by a group of Rhode Island School of Design students and volunteers from the local non-profit YEAH. While each proposal is devoted to bringing more people into Fall River and creating a more cohesive feeling to downtown, they differ wildly in terms of plans.
One student has pitched an augmented-reality smartphone game similar to Pokemon Go that would incentivize people to get out and explore the city, while another has proposed a series of murals to commemorate the Quequechan River’s path through Fall River.
Anyone interested in learning more about Fall River’s Transformative Development Initiative district can contact McKeag at 617-418-0728 or firstname.lastname@example.org.