The Mattapan Square Main Streets has been revived with new leadership that is going to canvass the community to re-imagine and re-brand the area for businesses and residents.
With Black Fridays and Small Business Saturdays in mind, many have dreams that one day the business corridor in Mattapan Square will be teeming with shoppers and holiday cheer, and officials at Main Streets hope they can bring back the destination aspect of the Square with the new energy at their organization.
Ben Echevarria, the new executive director, and Nicole Echemendia, the Main Streets board chair, kicked off the effort at the Nov. 7 Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC) meeting with a 30-minute discussion about what people would like to see in Mattapan Square. The effort coincides with a great deal of investment proposed from the City of Boston on infrastructure, from private developers on construction projects, and with the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) “PLAN: Mattapan” draft in circulation. All of them, they said, should coalesce into one.
“We’re in a process of re-branding and redeveloping ourselves,” said Echemendia. “We want to hear from you and find out what is our vision for Mattapan Square. At many meetings I hear what folks don’t want or like about proposals, but we want to develop our vision of what we’d like in Mattapan Square. We have a lot of development and proposals coming in, but we want to stay unique to our identity. We need to define what that identity is first.”
Echevarria has most recently worked for The Welcome Project in Somerville. He also played an instrumental role in getting the driver’s license law for undocumented residents passed and defending it against a repeal effort known as this fall’s Question 4.
“The city is paying more attention now,” he said. “There is some change and also, you’re seeing city councillors at your meetings and the state delegation, too.”
He said they are looking to retain a consultant that would convene meetings of businesses and residents to talk about the current state and future hopes for the Square.
Nicole Daley said she likes Mattapan Square but sees it more of a “pass-through” location, rather than a destination. “It doesn’t feel like it’s designed for people to be there and stay there,” she said. “I’d like it to have the feeling of a place to go on Friday night to eat or grab something and stay for a while. Right now, I don’t think I go there for anything besides something utilitarian, but it’s a pop-in, and pop-out.”
Echevarria and Echemendia said they would like to create a business district that appeals to the residents but they also would like to give existing businesses a chance to meet those needs first.
Local resident Barbara Crichlow said that idea is difficult, that the whole square is hamstrung because none of the merchants own the buildings. She said that “back in the day,” the merchants catered to residents, but that changed.
“When things started to change, the owners of the buildings rented out the spaces, but they didn’t beautify or upgrade them,” she said. “Whoever rented the spaces had to do that and start their own business. “
At the city level, Segun Idowu, Mayor Wu’s chief of economic development, opportunity, and inclusion, has started a pilot program to try to help businesses in the neighborhoods purchase their buildings from landlords. That is a program Echevarria said they would certainly try to leverage during their re-brand.
Others noted that there needs to be neighborhood liquor licenses available to promote sit-down dining establishments in the Square. “Liquor licenses go everywhere else but in our community,” said Gina Pitts. Added Yionel Jean: “I’d like to build a more affluent looking neighborhood with minority representation.”
Others mentioned things like improved sidewalk safety, better lighting near ATMs and business entrances, and perhaps a new zoning district for the square that isn’t included in current proposals like “PLAN: Mattapan.”
The BPDA’s Mattapan proposal, which has seen its comment period extended to Dec. 4, focuses on boosting density in the neighborhood by allowing the construction of units in the backyards of lots, adding up to 2,400 new homes. But it also puts a special focus on adding height and density to Mattapan Square, calling it a “vibrant” transit hub that is the “cultural and commercial heart” of the neighborhood due to its proximity to the commuter rail and the trolley line.
Citing Blue Hill Avenue’s wide right of way, the proposal suggests increasing building heights to 70 feet from 55 feet and increasing the number of street trees.
•State Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley is assembling nominees for a Community Advisory Board to oversee the Ryan Playground renovations on River Street. Anyone interested should contact her office at Chris.Westfall@mahouse.gov.
•The Mattapan Square tree lighting will take place on Dec. 3 as part of the Mayor’s Enchanted Trolley Tour.
•The second Community Violence Impact Meeting will take place in the Mattapan Branch Library, 1350 Blue Hill Ave., at 6 p.m. on Nov. 22. For more information contact Eric James (email@example.com) or Azan Reid (Panlyfeproject333@gmail.com).