Meeting signals discord over Main Streets application

By 
Alex Owens, Special to the Reporter
Jul. 9, 2009

The Mattapan Board of Trade held a community meeting on Tuesday night at the Mattapan Library regarding emerging plans to seek admission into the city’s Main Streets program. The meeting — which began as a simple overview and call-to-arms for winning Main Streets designation for the neighborhood— turned into a standoff between the Mattapan Board of Trade and Morton Street Village Board of Commerce, which has also held meetings to organize local residents and merchants around the idea of securing a Main Streets designation for the neighborhood.

The commercial revitalization program focuses on boosting the economies, aesthetics and diversity in citybusiness districts— a mission many say is sorely needed in Mattapan. The program now has 19 districts across the city of Boston — with five in Dorchester alone— but has never been set up in Mattapan.

Critics of the Board of Trade said that the business group had been an obstacle to earlier attempts to secure a Main Streets designation— and criticized the Board for allegedly seeking to usurp control of the effort from residents.

“I’m sick of seeing [Mattapan] miss out on everything because we don’t come together,” said Catharine Hardaway. Hardaway, a leader of the Morton Street Village BOC.

“The people who did not want Main Streets at first are now trying to do their own thing,” said David Lopes, a local contractor.

Stu Rosenberg, president of the Mattapan Board of Trade, defended the meeting as an opportunity for community members to unite. Morton Street members, however insisted that residents — not merchants—should spearhead the efforts.

“People see the Mattapan Board of Trade and think that it is representative of the community,” said local resident BJ Smith. “The indigenous people of Mattapan should decide what they want to see in the community.”

“We have gone to great lengths to include everybody in the process. The whole purpose of the meeting was to bring people together,” said Rosenberg.

Rosenberg denied allegations that the Board of Trade had been an obstacle to Main Streets, attributing the failure of two previous attempts at a designation to low support from local businesses.

“The Board of Trade represents over a hundred business in Mattapan. It’s only natural that the Board of Trade would be leaders, but not dictators. Of course we want to include people from all around Mattapan,” said Rosenberg.

The city of Boston requires that applicants for a Main Streets designation appoint a committee representative of the entire community. Separate applications will not be considered. The Board of Trade and Morton Street Village agreed that a Main Streets designation in Mattapan was needed, and that without harmony it would not happen.

“It’s not just about Morton Street, It’s not about Dan Hardaway,” said president of Morton Street Village, Danny Hardaway. “It’s about all of Mattapan.”

“If we do not come together, there won’t be Mattapan Main Streets,” said Rosenberg.

Both organizations have expressed a desire to reconcile, but no official decisions have been made yet.