Whittenton Village could soon be bustling again with major revitalization

February 18, 2022 : Taunton Daily Gazette, by Michael J. DeCicco

TAUNTON — The Whittenton Village section of the city could soon see a major revitalization.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito came to the Bay Street fire station on Feb. 15 to announce that Whittenton  has won the ability to improve its economic development through the state's Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), a MassDevelopment program for gateway cities designed to boost economic growth. 

The changes can't come soon enough for Angela Barros, owner of Mirror Mirror, a boutique at 322 Bay St. across from the fire station.

Barros said she hopes the TDI designation and development plans for Whittenton Village will result in more traffic and more signage that will attract more of that customer and business traffic. 

"I've lived in Taunton 52 years. Nothing has been worse than seeing business struggle down here. A lot of closed and empty buildings. There's a history here. It's a shame to see the village looking so worn," Barros said.

"It (the TDI designation) is going to create a lot of attention to this district. If more people come here, more people will open up business here."

Whittenton is one of 13 districts across the Commonwealth that will be awarded TDI fellows — MassDevelopment employees who will provide on-the-ground economic development expertise and collaborative leadership in these cities, according to the press release announcing the program's expansion.

The "fellow" chosen for Whittenton Village will have access to a range of tools to help accelerate development, including technical assistance, grants to support local market development and arts and cultural infrastructure, collaborative workshops, resources, events and more. The expansion announcement more than doubles the size of the program, which currently operates TDI districts in five gateway cities. It represents a $23.7 million investment in gateway cities over three years.

Polito started her visit inside the station along with Taunton Mayor Shaunna O'Connell, Office of Economic and Community Development Director William Roth and City Council President Philip Duarte, as well as Whittenton Village business owners.  

Standing in front of a Bay Street station fire engine, she said becoming a TDI district is a good move for Whittenton's future. The neighborhood-focused program will help the village "understand who you are and how that story needs to be moved forward," she said.

She said the fellow that Whittenton acquires will meet village stakeholders and assist the village in identifying its strengths and challenges and what the village needs for a forward-thinking plan. 

"It will help look at what your vision for your future is. I'm so excited for you that this is happening for you. Once you have your 'fellow,' this won't take long. It will happen fast for you," she said.

Polito, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera then joined O'Connell and members of the Taunton legislative delegation for a walking tour of the newly dubbed Whittenton Taunton TDI district.

Before her tour concluded, Polito even ended up with a gift from Mirror Mirror.

In line with what the city is doing to help out Whittenton Village, Barros was also the winner last year of a "Small Business Step-Up" grant from the city that awarded her $4,300 to assist her with upgrades to her digital technology.

The map of Whittenton Village handed out at the fire station, in itself, explains why the village's development is important to the city. 

Circled within it are "Whittenton Mills," "Poole Silver" and "Reed and Barton," evidence of the village's past as the center of Taunton's now-gone silver industry.

TDI concentrates economic development activities, resources and investments within designated neighborhoods, known as "TDI districts," for a term of two to four years.

TDI districts are mixed-use with a commercial component, with a five-minute walking radius or less and defined by a dense physical environment.

The 12 new districts are: Attleboro (Downtown), Barnstable (Hyannis East End), Holyoke (South High), Lawrence (Broadway/Essex), Lowell (Upper Merrimack Street), Lynn (Union Street), New Bedford (Acushnet Avenue/North End), Pittsfield (Downtown), Revere (Shirley Avenue), Springfield (Mason Square), Taunton (Whittenton District) and Worcester (Pleasant Street).

They will be active TDI districts for a term of three years, and the existing district in Fall River (South Main) will also be extended for a term of three years.

MassDevelopment has previously designated 16 TDI districts across the Commonwealth, and has provided other support through the program in five additional cities. Existing districts in Chicopee, Fitchburg, Lawrence and Worcester will "graduate" from the program in June 2022.