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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Future Economies Commission: The Pros, the Cons and What This Could Mean For Magoun Square

Intersection of Broadway and Medford Street: Magoun Square.

On Thursday October 20th, the City of Somerville issued a press release announcing the Mayor had formed a Future Economies Commission to “function as an executive advisory group to the Mayor, helping to identify short- and long-term business opportunities for Somerville. It will meet quarterly with CEOs, business leaders and leading academic minds to determine how Somerville can best present its assets to the business community and to explore which industries may be most interested in calling Somerville home.”

Scrolling through the names paints a typical picture of commission creations from the current administration. Same names, same functions, different titles. The exception, of course, is Larry Slotnick-the modern day Willy Wonka founded Taza Chocolate located outside of Union Square. His presence gives me the slight bit of hope needed to think that this commission will do something in Somerville. Furthermore, his affiliation with Somerville Local First will be to the benefit of the city; however, playing both roles may be a lot for one person. Ideally, I would like to see a female business owner, a representative that is under 40 years old, and a resident representative. It is understandable why the commission is set up the way it is, though, as the Mayor would want the loudest Somerville cheerleaders to be the ones that serve on the frontline.

Although featuring a predictable cast of characters, the commission does come at a very crucial point for Somerville. Huge residential developments such as Assembly Square and smaller-scale projects such as Maxwell’s Green are going forward despite Green Line Extension delays and, let’s face it; Somerville has a ton of people. What does this mean economically for the city? Sure, you can assume an increase in the residential tax base, but that also translates in an increase in city services cost to accommodate and protect them. Offsetting this cost is the job of the commercial tax base. Businesses keep residents here and residents keep (or, should keep) businesses here. City policies should promote and assist businesses as they bring in higher taxes than residents. Note the word: should.

Pulling directly from the press release, one notes the mention of transit in the eastern part of the city, but nothing referencing the Green Line Extension throughout Somerville. This was done purposely as the only guaranteed transit that is coming to Somerville is the Orange Line stop at Assembly Square-the first new construction since 1987. We all still hold out hope for the Green Line; however, nothing is set in stone right now. Then again, was it ever?

The transit piece will be the “ace in the hand” of Somerville to sell the city to the business community as the ideal location for them to invest in. Current parking policies have spooked most residents out of driving across the city to patronize another business district as often as needed, so the biggest push needs to be bridging the gap between residents within walking distance and commuters arriving by bus, the Orange Line, and (hopefully) the Green Line. The “squares” that Somerville is noted for need to begin to serve the needs of the residents, while attracting outside patronage. This is where the Future Economies Commission comes in.

The most crucial part of any new commission is to execute successfully. The development is important, putting all the right pieces in order to ensure that all bases are covered. However, if there’s no action plan to bring to the table when meeting with CEOs, business leaders and leading academic minds, the commission is just another waste of time. Topics such as zoning, licensure, local hiring, meeting resident needs, complimenting existing businesses, keeping with the “local” vibe of Somerville, and how city policies impact the business community all need to be fleshed out and taken into consideration before this group adds any meetings to their Google calendar.

Learning about the FEC immediately brought into mind the meeting I would want to have with them regarding Magoun Square. News that there could be more empty storefronts is opening up the intersection of Broadway and Medford to endless possibilities: a fun café/breakfast spot, boutiques, a yoga studio and maybe a small office or two could increase the daytime business for lunch servers while that same café serving up desserts and cocktails and the existing night businesses could carry the square and justify the ridiculous amount of money is costs (and is going to cost) to park in Magoun.

We have the ideas, we have the space, but only time will tell if we have the commission to make it happen

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is one of your best yet!

John Cole said...

Bravo! Well said!

huge said...

Courtney,
Your image of the stop lights in the intersection brings up a question of why are the lights at the intersection of Medford and Lowell still not operational? Do you know why this being delayed?

Courtney O'Keefe said...

Technically speaking, the construction in
Magoun is not finished. Once it is accepted by the
City, the meters will return and the light will be recalibrated.