Mattapan Square has finally been designated for a branch of Boston’s Main Streets program, which has helped revitalize several other neighborhood business districts over the last 15 years. As the twentieth Main Streets district, Mattapan Square’s application was accepted in August of this year and formally designated in early November by Mayor Tom Menino.
The Main Streets program is described as “an initiative to revitalize Boston’s neighborhood commercial districts,” by Stephen Gilman, the program director of Main Streets at the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development. According to Gilman, the city provides financial and technical support to neighborhoods that want to reorganize their commercial areas. The effects of the program, which often include cohesive architectural design and signage, can be already seen along central shopping corridors in communities such as Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain and Grove Hall.
Constituents from Mattapan had submitted two previous applications for Main Streets, in 1997 and in 2000.
“I think the difference this time was the cohesiveness...that a majority of businesses and residents wanted to see Main Streets come to Mattapan Square,” said Lilly Searcy, a Mattapan resident and the director of ABCD’s Mattapan Family Service Center. Searcy has worked extensively as an organizer on all three applications and is cited by many as a leader in this most recent success. “This is a great time to come together for Mattapan. Just as the community supports the businesses, the businesses need to give back to the community.”
The city provides one-third of the annual operating budget —$30,000— that is funded through the federal government. The major decisions, fundraising and labor will be handled by the community in the form of a board of directors. The support from the city is renewed on a yearly basis, with certain requirements that the Main Street district must attend to, such as mandatory meetings with city personnel six times per year.
The application process is rigorous and competitive. Applicants must submit a written proposal, letters of intent from business owners and give an oral presentation to business managers at the Department of Neighborhood Development. In addition, application organizers must raise the initial $30,000 in funding, which will be matched by the city if the proposal is accepted.
“Main Streets is not just a free check for $30,000,” said Gilman. “These communities have to show that this is something that will be economically viable and that they are going to put work into...The last thing the city wants to do is put money into an organization that would fail.”
“I think that Mattapan Square has the potential to be as successful, if not more successful, than some of the other Main Streets,” said Mattapan Board of Trade president, Stu Rosenberg. Initially, the proposal extended to down Blue Hill Avenue, but was cut back due to the costs of dealing with such a large area. Rosenberg, as well as several others expressed, hopefulness that a seperate application would be submitted for businesses located further down the corridor.
Several Mattapan business owners agree that a revitalization of the Square is long overdue and are hoping for the best.
“We’re hoping that that Main Streets will liven up the square and attract more customers,” said Kettlie Paul, owner of Ketou Boutique, a popular little storefront emblazoned with the Haitian flag representing a large segment of Mattapan’s population.
“I think that we need to be more efficient with the handling of our businesses in the square,” said Aris Poulopoulous, owner of the Mattapan House of Pizza. “We are moving forward, slowly, but we are moving forward.”
Stella Gouros, the owner of Brothers Deli, hopes the district will help re-shape the square’s image.
“We grew up here, and this is a wonderful neighborhood. We don’t want people to be afraid to come here and shop,” Gouris said.
According to Gilman, formation of the Mattapan Square Main Streets board of directors is expected to begin in early 2011 with budgeting talks to follow shortly.