Community Development Block Grant
Success Stories

Boston, MA - Mayor Thomas M. Menino

Boston Main Streets

Boston's Office of Business Development has adapted the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Main Streets Program, creating an innovative, community-based, volunteer-driven effort to comprehensively address neighborhood commercial district revitalization. The commitment of CDBG funds, City officials say, has been key to its success.

The Boston Main Streets Program, a $4.2 million public-private initiative, began in 1995 with six neighborhood shopping districts and has grown to 15 districts in 1998; an additional five are scheduled for 1999. The Program focuses on providing merchants and community residents with tools and information needed for their historic commercial center to compete in today's market. It helps neighborhood organizations capitalize on their unique historical, cultural and architectural assets while addressing many economic development needs; it aids small business retention and recruitment in light of strong competition from shopping malls and discount retailers.

The Main Street strategy for commercial district revitalization involves comprehensive, simultaneous work in four broad areas:

  • Organization - Building collaborative partnerships among a broad range of groups, organizations and constituents who need to be involved in the commercial district's revitalization;
  • Design - Improving the physical appearance of the commercial district, including the buildings, streets, sidewalks, window displays, signs, parking, and all other aspects of the physical environment;
  • Promotion - Marketing the commercial district to neighborhood residents, investors, visitors and others;
  • Economic Restructuring - Strengthening the commercial district's existing economic base while gradually expanding it by helping existing businesses become stronger, by recruiting new businesses, and by introducing new economic functions into the commercial area.

The success of the Program depends on the personal commitment and hands-on involvement of a broad range of volunteers and groups such as merchants' associations, property owners, neighborhood banks, service clubs, schools, churches, and community development organizations. The City provides:

  • •technical assistance in organizational development, strategic planning and market development;
  • •matching funds to support the cost of hiring an executive director;
  • •$2,000, on a one-to-one matching basis each year, to support promotional events in the district;
  • •$100,000 in matching funds toward improvements to private or public property; and
  • •a link for each district with a "corporate buddy," a large business, often a bank, that provides funding ($10,000 annually over four years) and technical assistance such as reviewing financial plans, developing volunteer projects or graphics design support.

Each Main Street organization is expected to provide:

  • •matching funds for the organization's director and for promotional events (between $7,000 and $17,000 the first year);
  • •office space in the district, either donated or paid for with funds raised locally; and
  • •materials and services for operation of the organization and for promotional events.

Twelve of the Main Street districts are located in low- to moderate-income areas and receive CDBG funding for the director's salary, operating costs, technical assistance and specific projects. All receive CDBG administrative funding on the assumption that they will create jobs that benefit low-income residents. Since the Program began four years ago, 15 districts have documented more than 2,000 net new jobs, 246 net new businesses, 78 storefront improvements and more than 200 storefronts in design, awaiting rehabilitation. Volunteers have committed nearly 32,400 hours to revitalization efforts. The City has invested over $106 million in capital improvement and public infrastructure repairs in the districts. In 1998 alone, Boston Main Streets gave about $141,000 for physical improvement grants, leveraging well over $261,000 in public-private improvement grants.

Boston Main Streets helped launch a successful Boston Unwrapped! Campaign which encouraged neighborhood shopping during the 1998 holiday season. As a result of a city-wide advertising campaign which used billboards, bumper stickers, colorful lapel pins and a shopping guide to businesses in each of the districts, many neighborhoods reported increased shopping activity.

Contact: Emily Haber, Director, Boston Main Streets, (617) 635-0293

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
1620 Eye Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006
Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352

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