Public can hear, pitch ideas Tuesday for post-pandemic projects in downtown Northampton

  • Downtown Northampton on Main Street Friday. Gazette file photo

Staff writer
Published: 6/14/2021 4:42:54 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Residents and business owners are invited to a virtual meeting Tuesday night to hear an initial list of COVID-19 relief proposals for the downtown area, and to contribute their own ideas to the planning process.

The meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. via Zoom, is a central piece of the state-run Rapid Recovery Planning program, which helps identify post-pandemic economic recovery projects that can be completed quickly.

The planning process started in March with a community meeting and a series of focus groups to hear concerns and proposals. A six-part final report will contain recommendations for the public sector, the private sector, cultural and arts organizations, improving revenue and sales, improving business tenant mix, and addressing administrative issues like local land use requirements.

“There are no boundaries,” said Wayne Feiden, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Sustainability. “Most of the focus is short-term things … but it’s really about, what can we do that can get started immediately?”

The state is not providing project funding directly, but will help identify investors and potential grants.

Each participating community’s plan, according to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, will contain “analysis and exploration of challenges, barriers, strategies, and actions, with a focus on developing tactical and strategic project recommendations that help communities achieve their recovery goals.”

Northampton officials will be able to work with experts in several fields related to economic recovery and development, and a facilitator devoted to Northampton is providing technical assistance with developing project ideas.

Even though the planning process is not complete, Feiden said the focus groups have already led to an important change in the city’s commercial district.

Business owners said the area under the Bridge Street railroad overpass is dark and “maybe feels a little bit dingy” to visitors from out of town, Feiden recalled. On Monday, the city hired an architect to start working on a new lighting system.

Feiden said the change will “support merchants immediately” by making it more comfortable for shoppers to walk between businesses on either side of the overpass.

Feiden said there are “no surprises” in the initial list of projects to be unveiled Tuesday. On the list are additional lighting improvements, changes to parking policies and the installation of wayfinding art to help people get around, among other ideas, but there is still time to add new proposals.

The final recovery plans are due to local and state government agencies on Friday, Aug. 27.

The web address for Tuesday’s Zoom meeting is https://umass-amherst.zoom.us/j/98557728094. The meeting ID is 985 5772 8094.

To attend by phone, call 646-876-9923 and enter the meeting ID when prompted.


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