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The Enterprise, by Marc Larocque

TDI fellow starts job in in Brockton working on downtown economic development

May 11, 2016

BROCKTON – A state consultant is now on board to help Brockton revitalize its downtown.

George Durante, who was recently hired by the state as a Transformative Development Initiative “fellow,” began his new job in downtown Brockton last week, based out of a second floor office next to the Metro South Chamber of Commerce. With an $84,500 salary, Durante will be in the position for three years, according to MassDevelopment, the state’s economic development and finance agency, which designated him to do the job.

Durante recently spoke to The Enterprise about the work he will be doing for the state to spur economic development in downtown Brockton. Durante, who last worked as a project manager at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Economic Development, and is currently the president of the board for Caribbean Integration Community Development, said that Brockton can leverage its cultural diversity as it works to revitalize the downtown area.

“In Brockton’s downtown, I see a lot of opportunity,” Durante said. “There are tremendous investments happening. ... There is a real strength in the diversity and multicultural population that brings opportunity for a vibrant place, where folks can really get out and enjoy and call home.”

The Brockton City Council recently voted to pass several downtown initiatives presented by Brockton Director of Planning and Economic Development Rob May, under the umbrella of his 81-page Brockton Downtown Action Strategy, which was completed earlier this year with community input.

“It's really ambitious, but I think it's very achievable,” Durante said about the Brockton Downtown Action Strategy, which is a 20-year game plan for the development of the area.

Durante, 34, who is a native of Billerica and currently lives in Belmont, said his role as the TDI fellow in Brockton would be one of outreach.

“One of the key points for me in the TDI partnership ... is to identify what (issues) we want prioritize first,” Durante said. “I think a major function of my role is really going to be (acting as) that conduit, hopefully as a center point of contact for the community and other stakeholders in the downtown.”

Durante said he plans on doing a lot of research to help make the development of downtown a “community-guided” effort.

Durante said the cultural diversity of the city could spawn a lively downtown dining scene.

“One potential could be building up the restaurants and really making that a destination for folks,” Durante said. “There is nothing greater than having potential restaurateurs or entrepreneurs in a food culture that bring a lot of different things to the table, so to speak. .... We don't necessarily want to have all pizza places.”

Durante also said he hopes to reverse the negative perception of downtown.

“That's something I'll be looking to change,” Durante said. “I will be an advocate for the downtown, as well as the other partners. I know there is already some work that has begun with the Homelessness Task Force. ... We look to continue to advance those types of initiatives and bring in more pieces to the strategy. ... The perception issue is something we are very attuned to, and are focusing a lot of effort on.”

Durante said he likes the idea of a Downtown Ambassadors Program included in the Brockton Downtown Action Strategy, which would provide workers to keep streets clean and safe, and to act as points of contact for information.

Durante also said the downtown commuter rail station is an important asset for Brockton.

Durante said he believes that downtown areas in general are growing hot spots for economic development in Massachusetts.

“Really, I see a larger trend across the commonwealth and country of folks starting to return to downtown urban living,” he said. “This is the place to make the investments. ... Not every community has a downtown. It's an asset. With the commuter line and being in fairly close proximity to Boston, it's just ripe for the opportunity for life to be breathed into it.”

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