By Aaron Keebaugh
Plans to upgrade Broadway and bring a “downtown feeling” to that area fulfill a campaign promise made by Mayor Dan Rizzo.
“I’ve watched Broadway somewhat deteriorate,” the mayor said to the 19 business owners and city officials stuffed into his office at a late-afternoon meeting on September 6. “We didn’t want to [renovate Broadway] in a vacuum, not by ourselves. We believe that projects will come out much better if we get input from Broadway businesses, by taking a community approach.” The mayor added, “There is no reason why Revere, the gateway to the North Shore, should not have a developed business district.”
As a start, the improvement plans include the installation of 29 ornamental lights between Hyde St. and Central Ave. on Broadway. Revere’s Director of Economic Development John Festa told the members present that construction on the lights will begin in the coming months. Festa reported that money from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), funding from Chapter 90 programs, and money from the FY 2013 DPW budget would pay for the estimated $350,000 to install the lights.
Other plans, though, are preliminary. The September 6 meeting, the first for the Broadway Advisory Council, served as a chance to create a vision for a downtown district.
Festa told the crowded room that in order to fund the project the city will “be aggressive on going after grants.” He explained that possible funding for Broadway redesign could come from line items in the mitigation package that the city could receive from the proposed Suffolk Downs casino. Funding for development in the next few years will also come from CBDG funds for FY 2014 and FY 2015, according to the three-year plan.
As incentives to businesses, the city could cover 100% of up to $5,000 for business signs and 50% of up to $20,000 for store fronts, Festa said.
Festa and other city officials involved with the planning have looked to the business districts in communities around the region as models for the types of businesses they hope to attract to Revere and for general aesthetic beauty. Melrose’s business district surfaced as the chief model during the meeting.
“They have historic flavor,” Festa said, though he added that he did not want Broadway to be a carbon copy of Melrose’s downtown. “We want to maintain our own historic flavor, but progress as well.”
If the redesign of Broadway goes according to plan, Mayor Rizzo said he hopes to upgrade other business districts in the city. “We have a great city… Let’s look like a great city,” he said.
A revitalized downtown will also create a substantial need for parking in the area, Festa reasoned. Some options include demolishing the old police station in order to make room for a garage, he told Advisory Council members. In addition, plans to build a police substation on Broadway would assist with the current increased police presence.
Drawings of the potential development on Broadway, illustrated and presented to the Advisory Council by Architect John DeMarco, feature a new plaza, complete with stonework fountain and benches, on the corner of Broadway and Pleasant St.
The front of the Post Office is another potential area for development, DeMarco said.
On the other side of Pleasant St., an expanded walkway would serve to “create a view of the plaza across the street," said DeMarco. But the renovation would eliminate eight parking spaces on Pleasant Street, he added.
The Chamber of Commerce’s First Vice President Bob Upton suggested that the plaza designs could emphasize prominent figures from the city’s history, similar to public spaces on Revere Beach.
Another drawing displayed at the meeting showed a median strip containing light poles and small garden beds for flowers running along the middle of Broadway. But the DPW deemed the strip impractical, as it would likely sustain damage from passing drivers and pose a problem for public employees who plow the road, Festa reported.
A few Advisory Council members admitted they would like to see “better quality" stores come into the city. Development on Broadway, they hope, will encourage new businesses there.
One member, Anthony Delvecchio, complained of the large number of repeat businesses, such as nail salons, and the overabundance of signage on Broadway store fronts, which he termed “outrageous."
Jamie Russo, who owns and rents several properties to some small businesses on Broadway, told Advisory Council members he has been trying to lobby Starbucks to set up a store in the area for several years, but the company feels that Broadway “is not their demographic." One reason, he cited, was the median income of many city residents. And the climbing water rates make it increasingly difficult for current businesses to operate, he noted.
Festa remains optimistic. There have been a lot of changes in Chelsea and South Boston, he said. “I believe in the next few years, you will see big changes in Revere.”