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Matching grants to help revitalize downtown neighborhoods, commercial districts

July 31, 2020 : Greenfield Recorder, by Mary Byrne

Three Franklin County towns have been named recipients of matching grants through MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program, the funding from which will help revitalize downtown and neighborhood commercial districts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its latest round of funding, MassDevelopment awarded $455,000 to 20 projects across the state, including projects in Shelburne Falls, Orange and Ashfield. To receive the awards, however, grants must be matched dollar for dollar by the recipients.

“Behind each of these projects is a goal to spur economic activity in the community by creating a unique ‘place’ that draws people in to dine, shop, experience arts and culture, or otherwise spend time,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Lauren Liss. “MassDevelopment is pleased to support these efforts with funding from our Commonwealth Places program.”

This year, MassDevelopment worked with applicants to amend the scope and timeline of projects to incorporate COVID-19 concerns where applicable, according to a MassDevelopment press release.

In Ashfield, Double Edge Theatre was awarded $25,000, which it has already matched through a crowdfunding campaign launched on June 30. About three weeks after its launch, the theater reached its campaign goal.

According to the campaign site, the money will go toward creating two outdoor art installations for an interactive COVID-19-related Summer Spectacle, as well as building additional arbors; adding wayfinding signs and paths; and adding outdoor lighting for public spaces, installations and audience paths.

In Orange, the town plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to match the $12,500 grant awarded to it through the state program. The matching grant will help fund the installation of picnic tables, seating and public art installations, the release states.

In Shelburne Falls, the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association (GSFABA) was awarded a $30,000 matching grant for its revitalization project, “Make Downtown Shine.”

In its grant proposal, the business association outlined plans for an Economic Recovery Fund — which would address the immediate impacts of the pandemic — as well as the originally proposed downtown improvement project of installing year-round lights on the Iron Bridge to attract residents and tourists.

MassDevelopment will provide $15,000 now to allow GSFABA to begin implementing the project, and it will receive the remaining $15,000 if the campaign reaches its $30,000 campaign goal. GSFABA board member Whit Sanford noted, however, that the association loses the initial funds if all $30,000 isn’t raised.

As other recipients have, GSFABA plans to use the crowdfunding platform Patronicity starting in early fall to raise its grant match.

Through 30 responses to a survey this spring, Sanford learned that businesses have seen a revenue decline of more than 25 percent compared to similar periods. A large number of responses indicated that the main resource needed right now by businesses is money to cover monthly expenses, such as rent, utilities and insurance.

“I do hope we get a grant agreement with the state so we can begin getting some money to the local businesses,” Sanford said.

Sanford added she expects to collaborate with other organizations and committees, such as the Bridge of Flowers Committee, when planning for the improvements the grant will help to fund.

“We have ideas ... and we want to present them to the public so the public can vote and give us input on what they like the best,” Sanford explained. “We would eventually choose one of the scenarios we develop, and that way it becomes a community thing, something people can get behind and something that will help the village.”