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Transformative Development Initiative has big plans for gateway cities

November 5, 2015 : Eagle-Tribune, by Jay Ash and Marty Jones

That solitary candle on a birthday cake often fails to evoke all of the efforts necessary to reach the milestone of a first year. In a single year, the Baker-Polito administration, MassDevelopment, gateway city partners, and other state agencies have helped the Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) blossom into a multi-layered redevelopment program for gateway cities. TDI has turned legislative language into vibrant, creative collaborations that engage civic leaders, businesses, and residents in the future of key districts. We are delighted to wish a happy first birthday to TDI and, like a proud, wonky parent, want to highlight milestones from the past year that have meaningful policy implications.

* Support for 10 strategic districts and their local partnerships. After an initial assessment, locally nominated districts in Brockton, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lynn, New Bedford, Peabody, Pittsfield, Revere, Springfield, and Worcester are receiving custom-tailored technical assistance and real-estate services to support their redevelopment visions. For example, Pittsfield drew dozens of residents, business owners, and city and state officials to sketch their ideas at its Tyler Street initiative launch in August, and Revere next month will build its "better block" -- targeted art and storefront improvements on Shirley Avenue.

* Grants for 12 collaborative workspaces. Through the TDI Cowork Program, MassDevelopment is helping gateway city entrepreneurs. The agency provided $150,000 to help fit-out Groundwork! in New Bedford, $162,000 to expand Lowell Makes, and $150,000 to help New Vestures, a fashion and textile arts makerspace, move to downtown Lowell. Seed grants are also assisting in the startup and expansion plans of workspaces in Holyoke, Springfield, Pittsfield, Lawrence, and Quincy.

* More than $70,000 for creative place-making activities to build community engagement. Want to network after a day at the office and see "Office Space" under the stars at Springfield's Stearns Square Park? Have coffee and listen to live music at a Peabody parklet on Main Street? Eat local food, shop, and see art at pop-up storefronts at a Chicopee West End block party? These are just a few of the place-making activities that received funds through TDI Places, which backstopped small-scale, short-term projects to generate large-scale fun and enthusiasm for these districts' assets. Growth can come from community engagement and changing local perceptions.

* Three economic development fellows, with more to come. MassDevelopment hired three TDI Fellows -- Noah Koretz in Haverhill, Joseph Mulligan III in Lynn, and Laura Masulis in Springfield -- to advance local redevelopment visions. These mid-career Fellows, who have experience in city planning, community partnership building, small business development, and real estate, are working in their host cities for three years. Thanks to the Baker-Polito administration and the Legislature, money from this year's state budget will enable MassDevelopment to hire a new cohort of fellows during TDI's second year.

* Expert recommendations for two metro-Boston communities. In June, the Urban Land Institute convened a panel of eight nationally renowned experts to immerse themselves in Everett and Malden for five days and developed strategies for the industrial districts along the Malden River. The recommended next steps for the districts include using the Malden River as an amenity to spur growth while creating distinct identities with the "Food Innovation District" in Malden and the "Santilli-Norman District" in Everett. These areas would focus on makers, recreation, and next-generation industrial uses. Other enhancements to the river connection could include a riverwalk, recreational space, or an iconic pedestrian bridge. The commonwealth, MassDevelopment, and the cities' mayors are already working on implementation strategies.

In TDI's second year, we plan to make the first equity investments in TDI Districts. These key projects will be selected to advance district visions, complement other investments, improve district perceptions, and enhance local redevelopment capacity. Over the longer term, local partnerships will implement their district plans, co-working spaces will add members, and new place-making ideas will flourish. By building on the successes of TDI's first year, using program funds to focus on key downtown districts, and determining which pilot initiatives could be useful to all 26 gateway cities, the Transformative Development Initiative can help these regional urban centers light more candles to grow the commonwealth's economy.

Jay Ash is secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and chairman of the MassDevelopment Board of Directors. Marty Jones is president and CEO of MassDevelopment.