Two Main Streets programs celebrate new partnerships

Fields Corner Main Street received a $10,000 check from Neighborhood Health Plan, their new corporate buddy, at an annual winter meeting on Monday night.

FCMS's previous corporate buddy, Keyspan, had provided a four-year sponsorship that expired at the end of 2004. But by that time FCMS was largely inactive, and only in the past year did the program again pick up steam.

The new partnership is another step forward for the Main Street program, which was reinvigorated last year by a new board of directors and executive director in Evelyn Darling.

"I felt last spring like the Red Sox must feel now," said Board President Ira Schlosser to a large crowd assembled at the Vietnamese American Community Center. "We had a new team that hadn't played, and had to work out some kinks. By the summer we were working like a team."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino was on hand to thank the large cast of neighborhood institutions and individuals who comprise FCMS, and to praise Neighborhood Health Plan for their commitment to the Main Streets program.

"Neighborhood Health Plan started 20 years ago in Fields Corner, which means they're coming back to where they started," said the mayor. "They've come from a small storefront in this neighborhood to a major healthcare distributor."

The mayor also said that crucial to FCMS' continued success is a careful plan for the future of the Fields Corner Mall.

Reinvigorating the mall was a priority raised by several Main Streets members during a discussion moderated by At-large City Councillor Sam Yoon, a member of FCMS' advisory council. FCMS was one of several neighborhood groups that protested the return of a Midland Foods market to the space once occupied by America's Food Basket, and the group considers the recently opened Orlando's Food Basket an unacceptable solution.

Darling also presented a slate of neighborhood initiatives that FCMS has pledged to explore in 2006. In addition to improving the mall and accessibility for seniors, FCMS hopes to help small business owners to improve their storefronts through grants, continue involvement in the ongoing Dorchester Avenue project, combat persistent litter in the district, and look into bringing wireless internet service to Fields Corner.

"Dorchester House has received a $65,000 grant to bring wireless access to their service area," said Darling to the Reporter. "And while their primary interest is residents and ours is businesses, we want to partner with them to bring free wireless service in some form to Fields Corner."

Darling said there is no concrete timeline or detailed plan for the implementation of wireless service.

Despite the early hour and bitter cold temperatures outside, Cesaria was filled to standing-room-only capacity Tuesday morning as nearly 90 merchants and representatives from the city packed the Bowdoin Street eatery for the Bowdoin Geneva Main Street's first annual Networking Breakfast. The event's intent was to provide a forum for local merchants to interact with each other and to build the kind of connections that will help strengthen the neighborhood's business district. But more than that, it was also a coming out party for the BGMS organization, which had struggled in recent years but appears to be on stable footing with a new executive director and a new corporate buddy.

The event is the first held under new Executive Director Sandra Kennedy. Kennedy noted that there's a momentum building around the organization. According to her, in the last month BGMS has seen a 65 to 70 percent increase in membership by businesses and residents. The crowd assembled for Tuesday's event, she said, was indicative of that interest.

"The love and affection that is in here, it has trickled out into the district," said Kennedy.

Mayor Thomas Menino addressed the audience and remarked at the commitment to the Bowdoin Geneva neighborhood he saw represented at the breakfast. BGMS, he said will be the motor that drives the neighborhood's improvement.

"When your business districts work, your neighborhoods work," said Menino.

BGMS's new corporate buddy, Bank of America, will help provide the fuel, in the form of a $10,000 donation to the organization.

Tuesday's event was also an opportunity to introduce merchants to a new program called the Bowdoin Geneva Retail Initiative. The program is a partnership between a number of city and private agencies, that seeks to increase retail activity in the Bowdoin-Geneva business district. The program will offer merchants grants and low-interest rate loans for storefront improvements and Boston Police will perform free safety audits of businesses in Bowdoin-Geneva. Applications are available through Kennedy, and must be received by May 15, 2006. Call 617-436-9980 with questions.