The Mattapan Square Main Streets board of directors held a public “visioning” meeting at the Mattapan Branch Library on Tuesday night, the first such event held by the organization since it was officially designated by City Hall last fall. Tuesday’s event was intended to gauge public opinion and serve as a brainstorming session for specific improvements that could be introduced to Mattapan Square through the program. Nearly 60 community members attended and gathered into several discussion groups to outline long and short term goals, and to discuss the current state of Mattapan Square.
“I’m excited!” said Nancy Rachel Rousseau, the president of the Mattapan Main Streets board. “There’s a buzz in Mattapan where people are trying to get involved, and that’s the way it should be. We have to do something about where we live if we want to keep making it a better place.”
Main Streets is a federally funded, city-wide commercial revitalization program with branches in nineteen other Boston neighborhoods, including Hyde Park, Roslindale and West Roxbury. Fulfilling a long-awaited goal in Mattapan, Mayor Tom Menino announced Mattapan Square’s Main Street designation last November, the twentieth such designation since the program’s foundation in 1995. The decision would net a $30,000 annual grant for the community under the program, provided that Mattapan Main Streets organizers met certain criteria, including the creation of a board of directors and the hiring of an executive director.
The board of directors was convened by May of this year. According to Main Streets program director, Stephen Gilman, the Mayor appointed a nomination committee, made up of several community members, who then nominated other Mattapan community leaders for board positions, also approved by the Mayor. Current board members include prominent local leaders such as Dr. Azzie Young, CEO of the Mattapan Community Health Center, and former Family Service Center director Lillie Searcy, who has been advocating for a designation in Mattapan for at least a decade.
However, Mattapan Square business and property owners are in surprisingly short supply on the board roster. Out of the thirteen board seats that have already been filled, only two are held by current business owners in the Square: Victor Thomas, owner of the local Mobil gas station and Jeff Brewster, owner of the McDonald’s—neither of whom was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting and neither of which own the properties they occupy. Dr. Young of Mattapan Community Health Center, which is building a new four-story flagship building in Mattapan Square that is due to be completed next year, will be the sole property owner on the board.
Some attendees also noted the absence of some of the more active community activists and some constituents who had been involved in the effort to bring Main Streets to Mattapan in the past. Stu Rosenberg, the president of the now dissolved Mattapan Board of Trade was not in attendance, for example. In addition to serving on the Board of Trade since the 197’s, Rosenberg had been involved with the Mattapan Economic Development Initiative (MEDI,) a group that spearheaded one of Mattapan’s two previous applications for a Main Streets designation.
“We are still in the very early stages,” said Rousseau. “I think the reality is that many of those connections with other community leaders still have to be made.”
According to Rousseau, there are still two open seats on the board which she hopes to fill with business owners, although the mechanism by which the board will select candidates has not been agreed upon yet.
“A lot of people are not here,” said State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, who represents Mattapan Square. “It’s important to make sure that the activists that have worked so hard in this community are included in this process.”
According to board members, the group’s primary objective at the moment is to complete its application to be recognized as a non-profit organization by the federal government, which would enable the organization to begin it’s fundraising. In addition to soliciting suggestions from guests at Tuesday’s meeting, organizers also invited attendees to sign up for any of four committees which will focus on specific areas of the Main Streets process—namely, organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring.
“I know we have a few steps left before people really start to see major changes,” said Rousseau. “As a board member, my concern is that we do everything properly.”