What's Next for Downtown Lynn?

Link to MAPC website

Ideas for a thriving, vibrant, and economically competitive future

Business Vitality

The Dedham Business Guide is an excellent example of an easy-to-follow, visually appealing document intended to improve business friendliness.
Creating an attractive, user-friendly guide to opening a local business can help entrepreneurs understand what they need to do and feel welcomed into the community. The Dedham Business Guide shown above is an initiative of the Town's Economic Development Department, with funding from the Dedham Mitigation Committee. The Town worked with planning consultants from The Cecil Group as well as a graphic designer to produce the Guide.
In October 2012, the City of Revere hosted an Economic Development Summit to showcase development opportunities throughout the City. This event featured presentations from numerous City and State Officials, and included the above video presentations.
The Time Square Alliance in New York City, which was established in 1992 as the Times Square Business Improvement District, produced a brochure called Twenty Principles for Creating Change as a way of telling the story of the dramatic change that has taken place in Times Square over the past two decades and sharing the experiences of the BID's role in that change for other cities facing similar challenges.
The above photo is from Beverly Main Streets, featuring the 2013 Winter Banner by Lidia Szydlowska, Downtown Banner Program award winner. Beverly Main Streets has pursued many innovative programs such as this one to invigorate its downtown.
Union Square Kiosk Map Banner
Union Square in Somerville shares some similarities with Downtown Lynn that make Union Square Main Streets a worthwhile case study: its physical infrastructure includes a complex, angular street pattern and a mix of strip mall-style development with historic architecture, it is host to a vibrant creative economy and arts-oriented organizations and businesses, is ethnically diverse, and has many destination food businesses including restaurants, specialty grocery stores, and a farmers market.

Strengthen existing businesses and attract new ones to encourage downtown development activity and progress: Improving the outlook for individual businesses in Downtown along with improving the vitality of the entire district were among the top concerns of community members MAPC met with and has been a key focus of recent economic development studies and investment efforts. Our recommendations to improve business vitality are:

  1. Create a business/permitting guide
  2. Host an economic development summit
  3. Establish a Business Improvement District or Main Street organization
  4. Evaluate the role a certified community development corporation (CDC) could play in Lynn
  5. Connect with the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED) for state resources, training, collaboration, and networking opportunities.
  6. Cultivate a positive image for Downtown Lynn by developing a marketing plan.
  7. Work collaboratively with property owners, local banks, and public agencies to address property upkeep, turnover, and modernization across the district.
  8. Build relationships with Downtown Lynn business owners.

These recommendations, along with examples from other communities, are described in more detail below.

1. Create a business/permitting guide and disseminate widely to existing and prospective businesses. Producing a guide like the example shown on this page can help to improve relationships with the business community by making it easier to understand what an entrepreneur needs to do in order to start a business in Lynn. The process of creating the guide can also help the City articulate local procedures and may result in some streamlining of these procedures in order to produce an easy-to-follow guide.

Example: The Town of Dedham worked with the Cecil Group to design the user-friendly Dedham Business Guide "to assist small business owners/entrepreneurs in navigating the local permitting process and to be a resource guide to doing business in the Town of Dedham." This guide won a Planning Project Award from the American Planning Association Massachusetts Chapter (APA-MA) in 2013. The Town makes this guide widely available, and municipal staff pair use of this guide with in-person meetings with prospective business owners.

Printed guides include a pocket folder with the striking cover photo shown here and a selection of the following pages, depending on what the business owner needs for their business:

  • Getting Started
  • People to Know in Dedham
  • Overall Process
  • Dedham Town Offices and Staff
  • Small Business Resources and Links
  • Dedham Town Boards and Commissions
  • Building Permit
  • Opening a New Restaurant in Dedham
  • Alcoholic Beverage License
  • Opening a Small Retail Store in Dedham
  • Business Certificate
  • Design Review
  • Establishment License
  • Site Plan Review
  • Special Permit
  • Variance

The guide available online only includes a few of the pages listed above, and other pages may be made available upon request from the Town of Dedham Economic Development Department.

2. Host an economic development summit and invite developers and employers from across the country as well as from the region. The summit could cover opportunities throughout the city, or it could be limited to the Downtown and the Waterfront, or specifically for Downtown. Involve MAPC, the US Economic Development Administration, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and Mass Development in this effort.

Example: In October 2012, the City of Revere hosted an all-day Economic Development Summit, which included:

  • Presentations on development opportunities and incentives from City staff, on state level expedited permitting from the State Permit Ombudsman, and on state level financial assistance from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and MassDevelopment's First Vice President of Finance
  • Speeches by elected officials including a Congressman, the Massachusetts Speaker of the House, a State Senator, and a State Representative
  • A speech on working with the City from the COO of Suffolk Downs
  • Video presentations from the Mayor and Economic Development Director showcasing Revere's assets, municipal partners, and development opportunities (shown on this page)
  • A guided bus tour of key development sites
  • A networking lunch

The City provided every participant with printed materials from the presentations, as well as flash drive with digital copies of the presentation materials as well as the videos. They spent a lot of time thinking about a coordinated message, brand and slogan to promote development in Revere, and many hours reaching out to developers from across the country as well as to regional stakeholders including organizations and companies like MAPC and ZipCar. The event helped strengthen Revere's relationships with private sector and regional entities, forged new partnerships, and resulted in new development activity.

3. Establish a Business Improvement District or Main Street organization to coordinate and brand businesses as well as to offer mutually-beneficial services such as beautification, events, marketing, and safety initiatives. Such an organization would likely be separate from the City, but it would work closely with City as well as the Downtown Lynn Cultural District, the Downtown Lynn Neighborhood Association, and other entities.

Business Improvement District: Business Improvement Districts (BID) in Massachusetts are "special assessment districts in which property owners vote to initiate, manage, and finance supplemental services or enhancements above and beyond the baseline of services already provided by their local city or town governments" (Massachusetts EOHED page on BIDs). Communities can establish a BID under M.G.L. Chapter 40 O, which requires that a BID be "a contiguous geographic area in which at least 75% of the land is zoned or used for commercial, retail, industrial, or mixed uses" (EOHED). The BID is established through a local petition and public hearing process, in which at property owners of at least 60% of real property and representing at least 51% of the assessed valuation sign the petition. Property owners vote to renew the BID every five years. The assessment is levied by the municipality, but the BID is managed by its own board of directors, or the board of directors may designated a separate management entity, which could be an existing organization or a new one. Some of the eligible activities for BIDs include street cleaning, snow removal, litter and graffiti removal, washing sidewalks, producing and disseminating tourist guides, hosting special events, advertising, business recruitment and retention, sign and façade programs, parking management, streetscape improvements, historic preservation, and more.

Main Street: Main Street programs can be freestanding nonprofits, or they can be part of an economic development organization such as a BID or Community Development Corporation (CDC). Any Main Street program "must be a volunteer-driven effort that has support and participation from a variety of stakeholders in the revitalization effort." Main Street programs carry out their mission with a small staff and volunteer committees and task forces and must "raise their own funds for projects and operations."

The National Main Street Center, Inc. (NMSC), a nonprofit subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is an excellent resource to learn about economic organization strategies that have worked to revitalize and reinvest in traditional downtowns. The national Main Streets program began in 1980 and is best known for its Main Street Four-Point Approach®: Organization, Promotion, Design, and Economic Restructuring. This four-point approach is guided by Eight Principles for successful redevelopment: Comprehensive, Incremental, Self-help, Partnerships, Identifying and capitalizing on existing assets, Quality, Change, and Implementation.

There are thousands of traditional commercial districts throughout the country that have followed the Main Street Four-Point Approach® and have established Main Street organizations. Visit this page to learn more about how to get started with establishing a Main Street organization. Massachusetts does not have a statewide Coordinating Program, though the City of Boston Department of Neighborhood Development does coordinate Boston Main Streets. Nevertheless, many Main Street organizations exist in the Commonwealth and we included information about two of them here.

Examples: The MAPC project team is familiar with numerous BIDs and Main Street programs throughout Massachusetts and nationwide. We provided a few examples here to generate ideas for what Downtown Lynn can do. If you are familiar with the examples provided here, think back to what these places were like ten or twenty years ago. Generally, these places are in traditional neighborhoods, usually Downtowns, with a mix of historic architecture and newer development. In most of the cases, these districts were struggling economically and faced competition from malls, "big box" shopping complexes, and other destinations. In a few cases, these places faced high crimes rates, rampant illicit activities, poorly maintained streets and sidewalks, vacant storefronts. BIDs and Main Street programs help to bring business and property owners together and provide services of mutual benefit. They have proven to help districts like Downtown Lynn turn a corner from distressed to dynamic.

The MAPC Project Team learned about the work of the Downtown Boston BID, Providence Downtown Improvement District (DID), and Times Square Alliance during a panel presentation of the Boston Society of Architects' Urban Design Committee speaker series in February 2013. Additionally, the project team learned about the Westfield BID, the Downtown Taunton BID, and the Northampton BID at the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development's Planning, Production, and Progress conference in May 2013. We also provided two examples of successful Main Streets programs not too far from Downtown Lynn: Beverly Main Streets and Somerville's Union Square Main Streets. Each of these example organizations have excellent websites and social media profiles, such as Twitter or Facebook, and to learn more, we recommend visiting these online resources as well as contacting the staff at these organizations.

Downtown Boston Business Improvement District: The Downtown Boston BID was incorporated in 2010 as the City's first BID. In just a few years, the Downtown Boston BID has made a visible impact, but as a relatively nascent organization, part of what makes its story compelling is the advocacy effort that led to establishment of the BID. The City of Boston launched the Downtown Crossing Economic Initiative in October 2004, and the Downtown Crossing Partnership complemented their efforts through advocacy and an active campaign effort to create the BID.

Providence Downtown Improvement District: The Providence Downtown Improvement District (Providence DID) was established in 2005. Programs of the Providence DID include the DID Clean Team, safety guides, a seasonal downtown planting program, streetscape improvements, and the Hospitality Resource Partnership. The Hospitality Resource Partnership is a collaboration between the city, hospitality industry businesses such as restaurants and nightclubs, property owners, and the police to create vibrant and safe nightlife in Downtown.

Providence DID works with the Providence Foundation to market Downtown and advocate for economic development, including job creation and promoting Downtown a as place for businesses to locate and expand. The Providence DID works close with the City of Providence to address Downtown needs.

Times Square Alliance logo c2013 Times Square District Management Association, Inc.Times Square Alliance: Since its establishment in 1992, the Times Square Alliance (formerly the Times Square BID) has been an integral partner in turning Times Square from a haven for crime and illicit activity into a top year-round tourism destination with high real estate values and billions in economic activity and thousands of jobs.

Although the high-priced real estate in Time Square is unaffordable for most people and companies, the Times Square Alliance has actively partnered with social service organizations, arts organizations, and other nonprofits to address challenges as well as to make public spaces welcoming to all people, regardless of income or employment.

The BID partnered with an organization called Project Renewal, a substance abuse recovery organization, for its street cleaning services, thus providing job training and employment for people in need. The BID also partnered with Common Ground to provide the homeless with homes and address homelessness in other innovative ways. They also worked with the Midtown Community Court to address crime in ways more likely to reduce recidivism, and worked with the New York Civil Liberties Union to address the concentration of adult uses by proposing zoning changes, which ultimately led the Department of City Planning to undertake similar studies citywide and subsequently, change zoning citywide.

Times Square is internationally known as a hub for theater and entertainment and creative partnerships and projects with numerous theater arts organizations and public space consultants have transformed the experience of a visit to Times Square, along with increasing Broadway theater attendance, supporting artists, and offering residents and visitors alike with programming that makes for a memorable experience. To learn more about the Times Square Alliance, read the Twenty Principles for Creating Change brochure and explore the Times Square Alliance website.

Westfield Business Improvement District: Located at the foothills of the Berkshires and west of Springfield, Westfield Business Improvement District (WBID) was the third BID established in Massachusetts, in June 2006. During their presentation at the May 2013 EOHED planning conference, WBID staff discussed, among other programs, their Best Retail Practices Program, an initiative in which participants can attend a free workshop on visual examples of best retail practices and then can apply to be select for an in-store consultation which includes an assessment and recommendations. Finally, a few recipients of this consultation are awarded a grant to implement some of the recommendations identified in the assessment. WBID works with Christine Moynihan, Principal of Retail Visioning, for this program.

Northampton Business Improvement District: The Northampton BID also presented at the May 2013 EOHED planning conference. Highlights of their presentation included the metrics they used to communicate their value. The Northampton BID budget breakdown in FY 2013 was 17% for administrative costs, 6% on public safety programs, 38% on marketing programs, and 39% on maintenance programs. They pride themselves on the efficiency of their services; staff at the conference referenced timely snow removal and the quick clean-up after their First Night event among other programs - their sidewalk and curb cleaning services operate everyday, all year. The Northampton BID was established in 2009, and since then, hotel and room tax revenues, meals tax revenues, and parking revenues have all increased substantially. Members of the BID restaurants, retail shops, service-oriented businesses, and nonprofit organizations including Smith College, a few area churches, and the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce.

Downtown Taunton Business Improvement District: Downtown Taunton's Business Improvement District and Foundation work together, complementing more traditional BID activities with community development activities such as housing development and renovating blighted properties.Representatives from the Downtown Taunton BID were among the panelists at the May 2013 EOHED planning conference, where they presented an overview of their innovative programs. Downtown Taunton, Massachusetts is home to a Business Improvement District established in 2010 and a Foundation established in 2011, which together pursue a "multi-faceted approach to revitalization." Their website, www.downtowntaunton.org, offers a concise guide to what the district has to offer. The BID's programs include security camera matching grants, snow removal, window washing, website design assistance and hosting, and real estate referrals. They work with the Foundation to purchase and renovate properties for a variety of uses that will strengthen the district, including: new homeownership opportunities, art galleries, affordable and market rate apartments, office spaces, small businesses, a center for the arts, and a workforce training center. Downtown Taunton Foundation is a member of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC).

Beverly Main Streets: Beverly Main Streets is a "non-profit, volunteer-led organization focused on making Downtown Beverly a great place to run a business, live work, shop, dine, and visit." Some of its initiatives include Downtown 2020, which articulate the vision for Downtown Beverly, a number of events and promotions such as trick or treating, window decorating contests, restaurant week, mayoral debates, and the banner design competition pictured on this page, resources for businesses including a guide to Starting Your Business in Beverly, similar to the Dedham Business Guide shown above, financing incentives such as access to low interest loans, storefront improvement and façade and sign improvement grants, information about Downtown Beverly, and other useful information. Beverly Main Streets collaborates with the City of Beverly to promote quality residential development in the Rantoul Street Urban Center Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district and is currently working with the City and local stakeholders to explore establishment of a Business Improvement District in Downtown Beverly. Beverly Main Streets is a member of the National Main Streets Center, Inc. (NMSC). NMSC is a nonprofit subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Union Square Main Streets: Union Square Main Streets (USMS) in Somerville "focuses on two commercial clusters already in place in Union Square: food focused businesses and the creative economy." They host a number of events including the Union Square Farmer's Market and the annual "What the Fluff?" festival, support the creative economy and design-related businesses through workshops, assistance, and by offering a collaborative space called the Design Annex. USMS actively advocates for making the district more vibrant by participating in conversations about the Green Line extension, zoning changes, and placemaking, promoting local, independent businesses, and offering tools and research to help support this ethnically diverse, creative neighborhood.

4. Evaluate the role a certified community development corporation (CDC) could play in Lynn as a vehicle for equitable development: such an organization could encourage diverse community involvement, serve as a liaison between residents, municipal government, and private developers, access resources such as foundation funding and Community Investment Tax Credits from the state, and address affordable housing development needs across the City. The Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC) defines Community Development Corporations as organizations that "engage local residents and businesses to work together to undertake community development programs, projects and activities, which develop and improve urban, rural and suburban communities in sustainable ways that create and expand economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income people" (See "What Are CDCs?" for more information). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts established a CDC certification process in 2010 under M.G.L. Chapter 40H. In 2012, the Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) was signed into law as a mechanism to help certified CDCs develop "high quality and high impact multi-year business plans for community improvement and economic development." These plans are reviewed by DHCD, which selects the strongest plans and allocates state tax credits that the CDC can use to attract significant private investment. Thirty percent of the available tax credits are intended for Gateway Cities (Lynn is a Gateway City). Currently in Lynn, LHAND and its nonprofit housing corporation subsidiary Neighborhood Development Associates, Inc. (NDA) pursues development activities similar to a CDC. The Community Minority Cultural Center Community Development Corporation is a CDC in Lynn; it is not certified but it is a member of MACDC. Centerboard also offers some services that a CDC might offer. Finally, there are certified CDCs that operate in neighboring cities such as North Shore CDC and The Neighborhood Developers, but they do not currently offer any services or have any projects in Lynn. In order to receive the benefits a certified CDC could offer, MAPC recommends that the city establish a new CDC, pursue CDC certification of an existing community-based development organization, or partner with an existing CDC to expand services into Lynn. A CDC could be coupled with a Business Improvement District or Main Street program as described above.

5. Connect with the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED) for state resources, training, collaboration, and networking opportunities. The City of Lynn, EDIC, and LHAND already access state resources from EOHED, but there are many additional resources offered by EOHED that could be tapped. Furthermore, many of the recommendations within this plan such as formation of a Business Improvement District or Certified Community Development Corporation would require increased collaboration with and assistance from EOHED. Learning more about EOHED's Key Initiatives, Key Industries, and Regional Profiles may help position Lynn to access more of what the state has to offer. Agencies that are part of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development include the following:

6. Cultivate a positive image for Downtown Lynn by developing a marketing plan, pursuing cross-marketing opportunities, and working with business and business owners to serve as spokespersons for the City – as recommended in the Economic Development Self Assessment Tool for Lynn.

7. Work collaboratively with property owners, local banks, and public agencies to address property upkeep, turnover, and modernization across the district. The analysis of property characteristics conducted during this project, including interactive parcel maps, may be used to assist with this effort. Some tasks that will help to address property challenges are:

  • Identify properties that are in poor condition or vacant in Downtown and develop a strategy for improving them, including a list of properties, resources for financing, and a process for acquisition and disposition if necessary.
  • Identity needs for modernizing properties and identify resources to support offset the costs of retrofitting historic/older buildings with amenities that meet or exceed today's standards.
  • Invest in a loan or grant program to assist commercial property owners with addressing Building, Sanitary, Health and Fire code violations in partnership with the local banking community as well as state and federal programs.
  • Maintain an up-to-date listing of available properties as well as proactively identify potential commercial and institutional tenants. Assist property owners with marketing and leasing to these prospective tenants, and work with property owners to improve retention of these tenants.

8. Build relationships with Downtown Lynn business owners to learn more about their needs and address these needs as a strategy for encouraging them to stay in Downtown Lynn. Regularly visit local businesses to strengthen these relations and to get to know business owners, particularly of immigrant-owned businesses. Encourage business owners to connect with business networking organizations and to take advantage of local business development programs.