|By Michelle Kealey|
WESTFIELD Westfield may soon become the third city in the state to adopt a Business Improvement District (BID) to help enhance and market the downtown area.
A BID creates supplemental services to an area of a city and brings local business owners together to help market the area, address the needs of the area and to make physical improvements make it a more attractive area to visit.
The BID plan was recently released to business owners in the area.
According to the BID executive summary, "Westfield's new Business Improvement District (BID) will provide a comprehensive supplemental package of programs and services that will create an attractive, well programmed and aggressively promoted location in which to live, conduct business shop and visit."
The summary also states that the BID includes the proposed boundaries as "the core area of the historic commercial center and entryways into the city's center."
The BID is bordered by the Great River Bridge to the north and runs south to Big Y and Amelia Park. To the west, the BID extends from Mill and High Street (Noble Hospital) to State Street.
Heather Sullivan, BID project manager, explained that Springfield was the first city to adopt a BID, with Hyannis being the second.
She said that the city is currently in the petition phase for a BID. She explained that 60 percent of the property owners in the proposed BID need to be on board and need to sign the petition, which includes 85 signatures. She added that 60 percent of business owners need to represent 51 percent of the total assessed value of the property in the BID.
Once Sullivan has the necessary signatures, the Chamber can present the BID proposal to the City Council for approval.
According to Sullivan, she and the Chamber have been working on the BID proposal for about 18 months.
The process started by determining if there was an interest for a BID in Westfield.
She said that a needs assessment was made to see if it was something to pursue in terms of supplemental services.
Once the need was clear, a steering committee, comprised of business owners in the district, came up with the proposed plan, according to Sullivan.
She explained that each property owner within the district was mailed a copy of the proposed plan, which details exactly what a BID is and how the money will be spent and also includes memorandums of understanding and letters of support.
She said that she and the Committee conducted surveys and spoke to different property owners to determine the needs of the business owners.
"It is a three-year detailed business plan," she said.
She said they identified many common threads within the district.
"Broad Street has different needs than Elm [Street], but there are some common [needs]," she said.
For example, she said that pedestrian flow and increased cleanliness are a couple of things that are important to property owners.
In addition to physical improvements, Sullivan said that a BID would give property owners a "unified voice" to address specific issues rather than one business owner trying to address issues individually.
One of the proposals in the executive summary is the creation of a partnership between Westfield State College (WSC) and the BID.
The proposal outlines the creation of a shuttle loop throughout the BID and WSC.
According to the summary, "a well promoted and convenient shuttle will be designed to allow students and visitors to easily move throughout the district."
The BID will also "work with the Westfield Chamber and Westfield State College to develop a swipe card program to encourage WSC students to utilize Westfield business through the use of the WSC swipe card."
To create a BID, property owners would pay a yearly fee of 0.005 times their assessed value of their property.
According to Sullivan, the money collected for the BID is in an account that will be spent by the property owners.
Sullivan has not yet collected the 85 signatures needed to create the BID, but said that she has been receiving a number of phone calls from business owners about the proposal.
She said that the business owners now have a concrete plan to look at, and she hopes "the momentum will keep going."
"There has been a very positive response," she added.
Sullivan said that she would like to have over the 60 percent of signatures needed by June so that the proposal can be in front of the City Council, which she said is an aggressive timeline.
"We would like [the public] to see all of the hard work we put into this," she said. "We've done a lot and we are very proud of it."
Jeffrey Daley, executive director of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce, said that he believes the BID will "vastly improve downtown" and agreed with Sullivan that it will give business owners a "unified voice."
"There will be a whole mass of people in business going after the same goals and objectives," he said.
He said the BID is a Chamber initiative, but it has been accepted city-wide.
He said that many people have told him that the downtown area needs to be improved and that more shops need to be added.
Daley said he believes the BID will give downtown the ability to get to that level.
He added that it will create a better environment and more places for people to visit, shop and eat.
He mentioned the success of the Springfield BID and the Entertainment District and Hyannis as examples.
According to Daley, many people always thought of Hyannis as a "t-shirt town," but it has changed to more of a tourist attraction with the help of its BID.
He added that he has met with people in both the Springfield and Hyannis BIDs.
Daley said that he wishes the proposal was in front of the City Council today, but he said that he hopes it will be there by June.
He added that it is not critical to present the City Council with the BID by June, but "the sooner the better because it benefits the city."
He said he hopes to "keep the wheels rolling" and will continue to work with the property owners.
Prabodh Reshamwala, Tobacco Barn owner and member of the Steering Committee, said, "As a small business person, I see the BID providing a way for Westfield's commercial center to develop a stronger position in the regional marketplace than I could ever accomplish as an individual property owner."
Chip Colton, member of the Steering Committee and downtown property owner, said, "We are pleased and excited to be involved with the creation of the BID in Westfield. The BID provides a mechanism for all property owners to work together to manage common issues and project a unified voice on topics that impact downtown Westfield."