By Tom Daniel, Gloucester Community Development Director
With the 7th annual Downtown Gloucester Block Party kickoff in the books, we’d like to provide an update on the Community Development Department’s ongoing efforts to support downtown Gloucester.
Before I get to that that, first a word about the great Downtown Block Party kickoff earlier this month. Events like this cannot happen without the hard work of so many city employees, especially police, fire and DPW personnel. Thanks to all of the municipal staff who work with the volunteers and businesses to make these events come to life throughout the summer.
Now onto our work…
Last summer and fall, the Community Development Department held three public meetings to develop the Downtown Work Plan. Through these meetings, people identified a shared community value of having an active and authentic downtown with a mosaic of uses. The community said they wanted to ensure downtown continues to be an active place filled with people doing positive things.
Several action items also emerged including: improving parking, accessibility, connections, and streetscapes, better signage, enhancing the visitor experience, gaining a better understanding of Gloucester’s housing/office/industrial markets, promoting better building design, and activating public spaces. While this is a lengthy list, it really provides a roadmap for all stakeholders to see what is needed to achieve our goals. The Work Plan looked beyond Main Street and identified improvements for the city’s primary routes like Railroad Avenue, Washington Street and the connections to our broader downtown neighborhoods.
In the months following the meetings, the Community Development Department initiated an in-depth study of the commuter rail station area. We have updated a parking utilization study to include data from the current summer season. We also are working to raise awareness of the important role zoning plays in the city as the guiding tool that communicates what residents and business owners want and how the City should implement the future vision. As many stakeholders know, existing zoning is tied to a permitting process that could be improved so that community goals are achieved more effectively.
In addition to planning and analysis, the Work Plan guided specific projects. For example, this spring we were able to utilize CDBG funds to improve sidewalks on Washington Street from Railroad Avenue to Centennial Avenue. This builds on the significant improvements DPW has made to downtown streets and sidewalks. And one small but important accomplishment identified via the Work Plan was to denote all public restrooms on city maps. Done! We are also working to secure funding that will improve signage and fill gaps in our way-finding program.
Another positive development from the community feedback was the desire to program more events that will attract residents and guests to downtown. The success of the inaugural HarborWalk Summer Cinema series provides a great example of how the City can promote downtown, businesses and the HarborWalk. On the opening night more than 500 people came out! The City always welcomes the opportunity to bring people downtown so we’re excited about the rest of the Wednesday night Summer Cinema Series, the 30th year of the Thursday night Harbor Loop concert series, next week’s Sidewalk Bazaar and the upcoming Downtown Block Parties on Aug. 16th and Sept. 20th.
The Work Plan has served to guide our downtown work over the past year. As we continue work on major issues like parking and zoning, the Community Development Department will continue to engage residents, business owners and other stakeholders in the significant work of education, outreach, and discussion. Securing resources to support these efforts is critical, but the same goes for widespread awareness. So please keep reading, sharing and participating! It’s what makes Gloucester a great community.