Yesterday evening the Urban Initiative held the first meeting for the Acushnet Avenue Economic Impact Study’s Steering Committee. The Community Economic Development Center on the Avenue was gracious enough to host the event at their offices located near the center of the International Marketplace.
Although not all committee members were able to attend, those who did contributed to a robust discussion about the Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor and offered insight on how we should direct our research efforts to best engage with the business community. The meeting covered the following topics:
Acushnet Ave is probably one of the most heavily traveled streets in the city. Technically it extends from New Bedford’s northern border with the town of Acushnet to the peninsula in the south (with small detour along Route 18 before it reemerges downtown as an official street intersecting with Elm). For the purpose of community development block grants, the city has defined the “International Marketplace” to include the Census tract 6507 and four blocks from the tract to the south. This area is pictured here, with the Avenue highlighted. But most city residents have their own definitions of what constitutes “the Ave.”
Seeking more clarity, we asked committee members to define where the commercial district ends. Members suggested the boundaries for the research area include the walkable portions of the Avenue, side streets along the Avenue extending as far east as Belleville Avenue and as far west in some points as Purchase and Church Streets. The northern boundary was agreed to be Brooklawn Park, as the break in commercial activity offered by the park and the church across the street presents a clear delineation. Interstate 195 was the obvious southern boundary line. While gathering statistics and data for our research we will no doubt have to deal with more cut and dry boundary lines adhering to Census tracts and block groups, the area the committee agreed upon is outlined below.
One of the core ideas behind convening a steering committee for this project was to give the study community ownership from the start. Therefore, we looked forward to committee members reviewing our proposed metrics and offering suggestions as to what they would use to measure improved economic conditions in the neighborhood.
It was generally agreed that the indicators identified in our grant proposal would be good metrics to gauge economic success for the area. These included various socioeconomic demographics on neighborhood residents (annual household income, employment, race/ethnicity, etc.) and information on area businesses (sales and employment figures, product/service diversity, lending, and tax generated). We also hope to investigate the role played by place in the economy by looking at the occupancy rates, density, and age of the neighborhood’s housing stock.
Committee members expressed interest in seeing the change in commercial vacancy rates over time. This would not only show the temporary occupancy of business real estate but also demonstrate which types of businesses had the most success in the commercial corridor and what the market was lacking.
Committee members were very excited about exploring new means of sharing our research with the community. In the past, reports such as this have been shared via open forums, onetime events that rely on incentives like free food to increase attendance. In lieu of this, the committee suggested a visually stimulating presentation that could be aired on local cable access, and then shared with city officials, local advocacy groups and other stakeholders to use as they choose. It was also suggested that slides or stills from the presentation could be printed as posters and displayed in vacant storefronts, as a way to show passersby that efforts were underway to revitalize the neighborhood. It was agreed this approach would be versatile and allow for maximum exposure.
The meeting was adjourned and the committee agreed to reconvene in the early fall, when our survey to area business owners would be nearing completion. Members were open to reviewing drafts of the survey before it was sent out, and many pledged support to help drum up involvement in the survey. Lastly, members agreed to set up one-on-one meetings with our research team to further explore their areas of expertise on neighborhood economic activity.