Main Streets districts, now a Walsh priority, get ‘innovation’ grants

Evelyn Darling, center, has led the Fields Corner Main Street organization since 2005. She will leave the group this month to take a new role with Viet-AID. She is shown above with members of the Main Street’s board last November at their annual Dotini event at the Blarney Stone. Photo courtesy FCMSEvelyn Darling, center, has led the Fields Corner Main Street organization since 2005. She will leave the group this month to take a new role with Viet-AID. She is shown above with members of the Main Street’s board last November at their annual Dotini event at the Blarney Stone. Photo courtesy FCMS

Programs in Mattapan Square, Uphams Corner, and Grove Hall that provide technical assistance to businesses in those neighborhoods received a boost last week with grant money for public art, business fairs, and marketing efforts.

The nonprofit programs, known as Boston Main Streets, a public-private initiative started by former Mayor Thomas Menino, applied for and received the money through the Boston Main Streets Foundation. Main Streets programs in Roslindale, Allston, Hyde Park, and West Roxbury also received funds, which have “innovation” as their focus.

The small grants will have “large impacts” on the districts, according to Sheila Dillon, the director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, which oversees the Main Streets programs and helps with their operations. “Each one is unique, but the foundation has been really excited about the quality of the applications received,” Dillon said.

The Main Streets program remains a top priority for Mayor Marty Walsh, who called it “very effective.” He acknowledged potential fiscal constraints in his first year in office, a point he made by asking all departments, aside from Boston Public Schools, to look at a one percent cut in their budgets. “We’re going to strengthen it, best we can,” Walsh said of Main Streets. “This year the budget is a little tight as of right now. My intention, if possible, is to put more money into the Main Streets program.”

The programs will likely be seeing some new faces in the near future: The Bowdoin Geneva district is searching for an executive director, while the Fields Corner district’s Evelyn Darling is departing her post to join Viet-AID, another Fields Corner outfit.

Dillon said her office is surveying the districts to find out what they need in terms of help in permitting, capital, and promotions. “He wants the program to grow, he wants the districts to feel alive and excited,” Dillon said of the mayor, adding that she was with Walsh in Grove Hall earlier in the week, eyeing some of the buildings that will be getting facelifts. The Grove Hall district is receiving $5,000 from the grant program to create a logo and banners. Uphams Corner received a $5,000 grant to pull together public art and the addition of green to the district through planters painted by artists. Local businesses would then adopt the planters and maintain them.

Max McCarthy, who runs the Uphams Corner Main Streets, said the small grants are geared towards “low-hanging fruit types of projects.” He hopes to install the planters this summer. The work is expected to dovetail with the city’s efforts to improve the landscaping along Columbia Road. The Department of Public Works is spending $3 million to fix traffic timing and have better lighting on the road, which is frequently jammed up. New trees are also on the way for the district.

Mattapan Square Main Streets, the newest addition to the Main Streets fold, picked up $3,000 to set up local business fairs that will focus on how to start a business, handle taxes and financial planning, and secure capital. “I know Mattapan is really trying to provide concrete services but it’s also a way to bring the community together,” Dillon said.

“We sincerely congratulate these winners for their thoughtful proposals, and the hard work that they’re doing every day to improve their local Boston Main Streets District,” Joel Sklar, president of the Boston Main Streets Foundation, said in a statement. “I know that I speak for the rest of the board when I say that I’m looking forward to seeing these innovative and impactful proposals become reality to the benefit of Boston’s small businesses and neighborhoods.”