Bowdoin-Geneva gets point person for Main Street effort

There's restaurants and hardware stores, historic churches and schools, and a top-notch health center. The Bowdoin-Geneva business district has an impressive portfolio, but has long needed someone to manage those assets. Someone to encourage a diversity of businesses, to turn losers into winners, and perhaps most importantly, to provide a vision and direction for the future of the district.

Enter Sandra Kennedy, who's experienced in such things.

After more than 25 years in financial services, most recently for Bank of America, Kennedy assumed the executive director's role at Bowdoin-Geneva Main Streets last September. Now she's charged with providing a vision and being the point person in an organization that has struggled in recent years for the lack of a person at the top.

"The program has been un-staffed for a number of years, and I think her leadership is going to move the program forward and really help that commercial district achieve its goals," says Emily Haber, program director for the citywide Boston Main Streets Program.

Bowdoin-Geneva was first designated as a Main Streets district in 1996 and did well under the direction of Juan Carlos Ferrufino. But after he left the organization, the lack of a clear point person heading up the group left it rudderless and many planned projects never got off of the ground.

Kennedy is new to neither the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood nor Main Streets. She moved to the neighborhood five years ago and has been a member of the board at BGMS since 2004. But she sees her new role as an opportunity to bring new life and fresh ideas to the ten-year-old organization that has floundered in recent years with the executive director's position unfilled.

And so Kennedy says that she'll aim for a fresh start; every idea is on the table, even if it failed in the past

"I come here with a new attitude," says Kennedy. "This is new - let's try it with a different take."

The fact that Kennedy lives in the district gives her added credibility with local merchants when she presents her ideas, says BGMS Board President Delia Laing Jackson.

Jackson has seen the organization struggle through hard times and says that the stability and direction Kennedy will bring is invigorating.

"I think the perception is that we're back in the game as a neighborhood that's trying to do something for itself," says Jackson.

Part of being in the game is educating merchants about the kinds of programs and opportunities that are available to them, from grant money for store-front improvement to small business workshops. Simply serving as a clearing house for that kind of information is invaluable for local businesses, says Jackson.

Educating merchants and creating a sense of cohesion among the different entities in the business district is a key step in its improvement, says Kennedy. To that end, BGMS has scheduled its first ever networking breakfast, scheduled for Feb. 28 at Cesaria's restaurant, where it will officially introduce its new corporate buddy, Bank of America.

Looking ahead, Kennedy hopes to schedule a job fair, as well as workshops for writing resumes and interview tips. Helping the district's residents and young people find jobs will help their self-esteem and ultimately benefit the neighborhood as a whole.

In the long-term, Kennedy and Jackson are considering what kinds of new businesses might benefit the neighborhood - a bank or a bakery might be a good fit they say - but for now the focus is on managing the assets in the district, and convincing outsiders that Bowdoin-Geneva is a place worth stopping.

"We have to sell more of what already exists here," says Kennedy.