Main Streets nearly a ‘go’ in Mattapan Sq.
The former director of Mattapan’s ABCD Family Services Center, the owner of a local Mobil gas station, and the director of the Mattapan Community Health Center are among the residents and business owners who have been tapped to serve on the 15-member board of directors for the Main Streets program for Mattapan Square.
The board will likely become a key player in a neighborhood that has recently seen sudden changes in institutional leadership in recent weeks with the director of the ABCD Family Service Center, Lillie Searcy, abruptly stepping down and the executive director of the Mattapan Community Development Corporation placed “on extended leave” as its board of directors attempts a reorganization. And it comes as Mattapan Square is poised to welcome its most significant new redevlopment project in decades as, the Mattapan Community Health Center, the area’s largest employer, builds a new $34 million facility with a CVS Pharmacy and a Citizens Bank inside.
“We’ve been waiting a long time” for the Main Streets designation, said Searcy, who was nominated to the board of directors.
The Main Streets designation came from city officials in November. The Boston Main Streets program, coordinated by the Department of Neighborhood Development’s Office of Business Development provides funds and technical assistance to the board, which will be focused on business development and storefront improvements, as well as other quality of life issues in Mattapan Square.
“As with everything else, Mattapan is one of the last communities to reap the benefits that other communities take for granted,” said Vivien Morris, chair of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. “We’ve had a fairly vibrant commercial district, but with none of the support that other communities have. It looks like a business district that doesn’t have a lot of the signage, the beautification, all the things that make people want to come and enjoy the business district.”
Mayor Thomas Menino created the Main Streets initiative in 1995 and its nonprofit foundation in 2005. The Mattapan Main Streets, one of twenty Main Streets now operating in Boston, will receive $30,500 once the fiscal 2012 budget starts in July, providing money for an executive director and promotions, according to Department of Neighborhood Development officials.
Its inaugural board includes: Searcy; Victor Thomas, owner of the Mobil gas station; Dr. Azzie Young, director of the Mattapan Community Health Center; Jeff Brewster, owner of the local McDonald’s, Muhammed Ali-Salaam, a retired Boston Redevelopment Authority official; Donald Caisey, a Boston police officer; Jim Clark, a retired official from the MBTA and the Zoning Board; Yvette Philip, an educator; Nancy Rousseau of the Young Professionals Network of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts; Virginia Parks, a Mattapan resident with real estate and development knowledge; Chris Yarde, an accounting executive with Partners Health Care; Keyla Jackson of the John D. O’Bryant Institute at Northeastern University; Brian McPherson, a Mattapan resident; Sheree Holmes, a teacher and wife of state Rep. Russell Holmes; and Marlena Diaz, a manager at Citizen’s Bank.
The board has already met once, and plans to meet again on June 13 at the Family Service Center at 6 p.m. Searcy said the members will start looking at its fundraising strategy and at finding an executive director. “That is certainly a priority because you know you need staff to run a Main Streets,” she said.
Rousseau said that while Main Streets traditionally have focused on business development, such as making sure storefronts are more uniform in appearance, she hopes that the program will set its sights on the broader neighborhood.
Local lawmakers say they hope the board will expand.
“It’s good to get new blood involved,” said state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, who represents part of Mattapan in the Legislature. She added that she hopes more business owners will be included, pointing to several building owners on the board and few businessmen and women.
Rep. Holmes, who also represents Mattapan and was part of the team that pitched the Main Streets proposal to the city, suggested that a third of the board be made up residents, another third of property owners, and the last third of business owners. He said he hopes the board will focus on putting together a marketing strategy for Mattapan Square, and whether it should be anchored around a medical theme because of the Health Center and the CVS that is coming, or more like Coolidge Corner, which has a high number of clothing stores and eateries.
“Mattapan Square has always been a real neighborhood of vitality,” Mayor Menino told the Reporter. The next step is “how you promote it. It’s a great victory for Mattapan,” he said of the Main Streets initiative.