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Public Art Gives Lynn an Image Makeover

Community Buy-In Crucial to Program’s Effectiveness

January 28, 2018 : Banker and Tradesman, by Anne Haynes

MassINC, the nonprofit independent think tank with a focus on Gateway Cities, introduced the concept of transformative development in 2013 with the idea that success in these former industrial centers would produce gains for the commonwealth as a whole.

The state codified this concept of financial tools, complementary policies and coordinated action in MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) in 2014. Three years in, TDI is transitioning from its pilot phase to a broad-reaching initiative, thanks to strategic thinking and action from creative economic development minds on the ground.

At the third year, TDI programs have invested $7 million to leverage $38 million from other sources, hosted more than 100 events and engaged more than 1,000 stakeholders across the 10 TDI Districts. As MassDevelopment selects several new districts and extends some of the existing districts to receive enhanced assistance, the agency is looking back on some of the most effective community efforts to make TDI a sustainable cornerstone of the commonwealth’s approach to development.

TDI partners – government officials, residents and business leaders – have been by far the most crucial piece of helping these cities realize their potential. Partners work with MassDevelopment’s seven economic development fellows and other regional staff to develop a strategic vision for their districts, set goals, and advance the revival of their cities. That extra boost of brain and people power has become the most vital ingredient in accelerating development and helping locally initiated projects launch through TDI and rise on their own in cities like Lynn, Brockton and Pittsfield.

Crowdfunding Fuels Lynn Placemaking Projects

A public arts movement in Lynn called “Beyond Walls” shifted perceptions and strengthened the economic development network in this historic waterfront city. Al Wilson, an energetic and dedicated Marblehead resident, following up on TDI-sponsored public meetings, shared his plan to install large-scale murals and colorful lighting in the downtown with Lynn TDI Fellow Joe Mulligan, who connected Wilson with TDI partners, city officials, residents and business owners. These key stakeholders helped Wilson obtain the permits, planning and financing for the project. Beyond Walls then pursued funding through MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program, a creative crowdfunding mechanism for community placemaking projects.

Commonwealth Places helped Wilson raise more than $130,000. More importantly, the campaign spread the word about Beyond Walls and inspired residents to invest in its mission. From there, Beyond Walls had the community buy-in necessary to take off on its own. Wilson and his team assembled a lineup of talented artists from across the globe for a weeklong mural festival that attracted thousands of visitors and positive media attention to Lynn. Beyond Walls is also going beyond Lynn by hiring staff, receiving more grants, assessing economic impacts and participating in other mural efforts outside of Gateway Cities.

In Brockton, a group of young professionals from the Fuller Craft Museum, W.B. Mason and the Metro South Chamber of Commerce wanted to connect with their community and help champion its future. Their idea was to create a networking group for young professionals to discuss their ideas for the city.

After an initial meeting with Brockton TDI Fellow George Durante, the team created a list of young leaders at key organizations and companies in Brockton to form a 20-person steering committee for the Brockton Young Professionals Group. The group has grown to more than 300 members since its kickoff event in spring 2017. These young professionals won a MassINC Gateway Cities Innovation Award in November 2017 for their grassroots organizing efforts. This now invaluable network of volunteers provides a pool from which Brockton TDI partners can source ideas about what community members want to see happen in the downtown, where TDI is helping Fuller Craft open a new location.

A Beloved Building Saved in Pittsfield

In Pittsfield, the TDI partnership helped accelerate redevelopment by preventing demolition of a key site and returning it to a productive use more in line with the district vision, which the partnership outlined in the initial TDI-sponsored planning. St. Mary the Morning Star, a 2.6-acre church campus in Pittsfield’s Tyler Street TDI District, had been vacant since the church closed in 2008.

A developer had expressed an interest in tearing the site down to build a Dunkin’ Donuts, but the Pittsfield TDI partnership and neighborhood stakeholders wanted to see the highly-visible site repurposed with a community use. When developer David Carver offered a plan to transform the site into market-rate housing, the Pittsfield TDI partnership stepped in to help. TDI Fellow Sika Sedzro connected Carver with MassDevelopment’s lending team, which provided a $385,000 bridge loan to help Carver purchase the property and line up financing for its development. The city also pledged to put forward a tax-increment financing proposal, which will exempt the property from taxes for the first five years. This intervention saved a beloved and beautiful building in Pittsfield, and the city’s TDI team built momentum around a key project that can inspire more investment in underused properties. Pittsfield is already seeing more investment nearby.

As MassDevelopment selects new districts this spring for the program’s second round, staff is keeping in mind how fellows and partners are critical to maximizing effectiveness in Gateway Cities. Beyond Walls, the Brockton Young Professionals Group and St. Mary the Morning Star are concrete and colorful examples of how small investments, when given the champions and tools they need to become sustainable, can produce gains for a district, a city and a commonwealth.

In prepared remarks he was scheduled to deliver in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy wrote, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Three years of TDI has provided plenty of learning opportunities, and we thank our partners for transforming those lessons into action through pride, guidance and vision in their cities.

Anne Haynes is MassDevelopment’s director of transformative development.