Published in the December 13, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield Main Streets program will be seeking funding through MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places matching grant program after the Board of Selectmen gave their blessing to the effort last night.
John Ross, a member of the Wakefield Main Streets board of directors, told the selectmen that the organization has been working with Patronicity, a crowdfunding facilitator, to get funding through MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places matching grant program.
“The Commonwealth Places program will match any funds we gain from a crowdfunding project, up to $50,000,” Ross said. “We’re seeking $40,000 in total — $20,000 from the community and $20,000 in a matching grant.
Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people. Wakefield Main Streets would seek to raise $20,000 locally to qualify for the matching grant.
Ross explained that Wakefield Main Streets began seeking input from the public during two table outings at the Farmers Market, a table at the Festival Italia and during the Wakefield 101 day at the Library.
“We asked the same two questions,” Ross said. “What do you love about (or in) Downtown Wakefield? And what would you like to see more of in Downtown Wakefield? We received over 150 comments from those who would stop and take a moment to answer our questions.”
The 150 responses led the group in a couple of directions, Ross said, in terms of the kinds of improvements people would like to see in the downtown. One idea the Main Streets group would like to pursue is new lighting to make the town safer, create ambiance and make it more attractive. New benches that create spaces for more people to stay in town and build community is another amenity that people would like to see. New signage (wayfinding) that shows people how to get to downtown and places of interest in the center is also a measure that the Main Streets group wants to pursue.
The $40,000 matching grant would allow them to get started on those initiatives, Ross said.
Ross reviewed some of the history of the Wakefield Main Streets program, which incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in June of 2014.
According to its mission statement, Ross said, “Wakefield Main Streets works to establish and promote downtown Wakefield as a vibrant, inviting destination by fostering historic preservation, economic renewal and community involvement.”
“We want to focus on the town center as a place for people to work, shop and spend time with each other,” Ross told the selectmen. The group also wants to “bring resources to the town that help it keep what’s here and add things we need,” Ross added.
Ross outlined some of what the Wakefield Main Streets Program has accomplished so far, including:
• Sponsored the purchase and placement of four self-watering planters in the Downtown area.
• Participated in the Market Assessment and Business District Composition Analysis for the Town of Wakefield.
• Conducted two Main Streets focus groups in October of 2014.
• Conducted surveys at the Farmers Market on the Downtown Needs.
• Conducted an open forum with Gin Wallace, executive director of the Beverly Main Streets as guest speaker.
• Started monthly newspaper profile “Small Business Spotlight” on downtown businesses.
• Directors attended Albion Art Corridor Kick off Meeting.
Ross also listed the program’s goals for 2017.
• Façade Improvement Program in conjunction with Wakefield Co-operative Bank and The Savings Bank (more details available early in 2017).
• Continue to sponsor planters in the downtown.
• Collaboration with Town and Chamber of Commerce on a Sign Improvement Program and other downtown improvement mechanisms.
• Collaboration with Sheraton Hotel to promote downtown businesses.
• Social media expansion and new website.
• Volunteer drive and outreach program.
• Crowdfunding program to promote enhancements to the downtown.
Selectman Phyllis Hull expressed concern that the program was focusing on the downtown area to the exclusion of another important retail district in Greenwood.
Ross said that there was no reason that Greenwood couldn’t be included. But he explained that the national Main Street Program, which provides advice and support for the local groups, advised starting small.
“Sometimes if you make a project too big it becomes less successful,” Ross said.
Selectman Ann Santos also said that she wouldn’t want to see Greenwood completely left out.
“As the downtown goes, so goes Greenwood,” Santos said. She suggested that as the downtown develops there will be more resources to devote to Greenwood.
Wakefield Main Streets is a comprised of a 12 member Board of Directors: Paul DiNocco, president; Robert Mailhoit, vice president; Robert DiBella, treasurer and Jeffrey Klapes, secretary. The other board members are Lawrence Andrews, Shannon Arnold, Kara Cohen, Glenn Dolbeare, Ann Hadley, Jeff Kehoe, John Ross and Susan Wetmore.
Main Street America is the name of the national network of coordinating programs, Main Street communities, districts and affiliates. Local Main Streets programs have been dedicating themselves to improving the quality of life in their communities and preserving the unique heritage of their downtowns and commercial districts.