Rebuilding Gateway Cities for growth and renewal

January 22, 2016 : The Gateway Cities Journal, by MassINC

Revitalizing real estate in our Gateway Cities is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Chelsea and Chicopee, Peabody and Pittsfield, Salem and Springfield, and the 20 other urban centers that fit this category have diverse needs, populations, and visions for transforming their industrial past into the innovative future.

MassDevelopment President and CEO, Marty Jones speaks with Representative Cabral before Gateway Cities Caucus meeting

That diversity requires a multi-pronged strategy. With that in mind, MassDevelopment has been proud to work with these cities and their leaders on programs old and new, using initial investments such as brownfields grants, agency loans and bonds, and real estate technical assistance to leverage long-term redevelopment.

Since 1998, the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund has helped eliminate the economic barrier of contamination and transform polluted properties into senior housing or supermarkets, to name just two of many possible productive reuses. Projects in 100 municipalities—and nearly every Gateway City—have taken advantage of the Fund, filling a financing gap to lay the groundwork for sustainable, market-driven development. In fiscal year 2015, the Fund provided more than $6.2 million for site assessment and remediation in 16 cities and towns, nine of those Gateway Cities. These funds show public policy at its best, with one disadvantage: the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund is becoming a victim of its own success, with less than $650,000 left for these challenging parcels.

The Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), in its second year, may not have the longevity of the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund, but these small initial investments in Gateway Cities are already catalyzing revitalization in their downtowns. With programs for coworking spaces, placemaking activities, strategic downtown redevelopment, and economic-development fellows, TDI has created vibrant collaborations that engage civic leaders, businesses, and residents in the future of key districts. MassDevelopment has made the first TDI Investment in Springfield, where the agency is partnering with the Springfield Business Improvement District to convert the former Skyplex building into retail and café space. This spring, the second round of TDI Fellows will arrive in Brockton, New Bedford, and Pittsfield to advance local redevelopment visions, joining a cohort of fellows in Haverhill, Lynn, and Springfield. Future funding could bring fellows to more Gateway Cities, invest in other crucial projects, and complement activities in these downtown districts.

With more dollars for brownfields and TDI, MassDevelopment can build on this legacy of success and continue to leverage these crucial, strategic programs for all 26 Gateway Cities. No matter its needs or population, each city requires tools and partners to seize the opportunity for sustainable, long-term growth. 

Marty Jones, President and CEO, MassDevelopment