Published in the October 1, 2015 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Downtown revitalization was the focus of Wednesday’s Wakefield-Lynnfield Chamber of Commerce Breakfast at the Americal Civic Center, as featured speaker Peter Milano of the Massachusetts Office of Business Development talked about his office’s renewed focus on helping smaller businesses. Wakefield Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio also spoke to Chamber members about ways that Wakefield is trying to revitalize the downtown business district.
Milano talked about the Economic Development Incentive Program that can provide tax incentives to a business in exchange for a couple of commitments from that business. The company, Milano explained, would pledge some level of new jobs and existing job retention as well as capital expenditure. The municipality would in return provide a level of real estate tax relief based on the value that the increased capital expenditure creates. The municipality may also provide tax exemptions for personal property.
In addition, Milano said, if a company exports 25 percent of its product outside of Massachusetts, the state may provide investment tax credits. The company could use those credits to offset its corporate tax bill.
Milano also talked about a program whereby if a company invests in a building that is vacant, the state will provide a 10 percent abandoned building renovation deduction.
Another program, Milano said, can help if a larger development is ready to go but needs additional infrastructure support. The MassWorks Infrastructure Program offers grants that can be a driver to get a project up and over the edge, he said, by providing assistance with state or municipally owned roadway improvements.
Milano said his office is also backing regulation reform and would like to hear from businesses about any issues with state regulations that may be affecting them.
Finally, Milano talked about the state’s Workforce Training Fund, a flexible grant program whereby the state can provide a company with up to 50 percent of the cost of employee training.
Milano told Chamber members that if they think they may be eligible for any of these programs they should contact their town administrator who will reach out to his office.
Maio talked about Wakefield’s efforts to remain relevant as a business community in the face of competition from malls, lifestyle communities like MarketStreet, outlet stores and online commerce.
He said that large scale events and celebrations like Festival Italia and the Holiday Stroll have helped to put downtown Wakefield back on the map. He also talked about branding Wakefield as a walkable, bike-able community with a strong cultural component as reflected in the library’s summer-long outdoor Plaza Jazz series. Maio said the idea was to be a little more urban with lots of activity while retaining a small town village atmosphere.
Maio talked about recent infrastructure improvements like the road work that was done all over town this past summer. He added that upgraded utilities in the downtown area could draw additional businesses to Wakefield.
He said that he hoped that the improved streetscape offered by the new Galvin Middle School would incentivize businesses in that end of the downtown to upgrade their own properties.
He talked about efforts to promote the arts, including the planned creation of an arts and culture center in the old Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department building at 9 Albion St.
In another new venture, Maio said the Board of Selectmen had recently agreed to retain a firm to do a market assessment and business district profile analysis that will assess demographics and local demand to help commercial landlords attract businesses that have a good chance of succeeding.
Other positive developments, Maio said, include Hallmark Health’s plans to build a new medical office building in Greenwood on the site of the old Wakefield Subaru dealership and a major new proposal for 37 Water St. that would refurbish the first floor for retail business and create up to 46 units of housing on the second and third floors.
The town, Maio said, “is going to be very diligent about having good, solid businesses in Wakefield.”