WESTFIELD- Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. announced March 10 that the City of Westfield has been awarded a $60,000 Local Rapid Recovery Planning (LRRP) technical assistance grant to plan for near-term improvements and initiatives that will boost downtown recovery following the prolonged COVID-19 economic downturn.
“It cannot be overstated how challenging social distancing and other required modifications have been to our local, independent businesses,” Humason said, noting COVID-19’s impact on small businesses that had to modify hours or shut down.
Community Development Director Peter J. Miller said the grant will enable the city to partner with The Beta Group, a regional planning consulting firm, to identify action-oriented strategies for short-term recovery and to encourage shoppers to return to local merchants and venues.
Westfield previously worked with The Beta Group on a Pavement Management Plan through the Department of Public Work.
“The aim is for [this] study to generate specific ideas for projects that will be immediately fundable either through specific state programs or municipal efforts,” Miller said, adding that some of the examples given might be improved, cohesive marketing assistance specifically targeted toward downtown, and brick-and-mortar projects in either the public side, such as streets and amenities, or on the private side, such as façade improvements.
The project will kick off in late March with a survey of local businesses to customize an approach that best fits Westfield. It will then focus on quantifying the specific challenges to Westfield, identifying high-impact improvements that can be made both in the private realm and public realm to encourage increased foot traffic.
“I am pleased that this state program is focused not just on planning but on identifying specific strategies and projects that can be accomplished quickly to help these businesses move ahead in what we hope will be a busy and healthy summer,” said Humason, who thanked Sen. John C. Velis and Rep. Kelly Pease for their advocacy for the grant.
“This grant allows [Westfield] to get access to consultant services to look at where we’re at and better improve going forward in the downtown area, with both short term goals and long term challenges,” said Pease, adding that the grant was also part of a larger effort to mitigate COVID-19 impacts on retailers, personal services and other downtown businesses.
“With the extension of the Columbia Greenway only a few months away and a new cohort of entrepreneurs who have already identified Downtown Westfield as a special opportunity for their business, we are excited about how this planning project will inform local government, downtown businesses, and the community at large of opportunities we can pursue to make Downtown thrive as the spring and summer progress,” Miller said.
The Local Rapid Recovery Program was offered by the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development through its Massachusetts Downtown Initiative, which provides funding to municipalities to increase local capacity and engage expert consultant services to implement downtown revitalization efforts. The Local Rapid Recovery Grants were given to 125 communities across the state totaling $9.5 million.