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Grant will aid revitalization plans

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Focus on the future: Downtown Greenfield is featured each year during the Riley Festival. A $40,000 state grant will be used to study how to improve this historic area.
Focus on the future: Downtown Greenfield is featured each year during the Riley Festival. A $40,000 state grant will be used to study how to improve this historic area.

GREENFIELD — Downtown Greenfield will be put under a microscope in the coming year as the city makes use of a $40,000 state grant to boost economic development in the area.

Greenfield received a Downtown Revitalization Plan grant from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Combined with the city’s required 10 percent match and contributions from Greenfield Main Street and the Hancock County Tourism Commission, the year-long project has a budget of near $58,000.

The grant will allow city officials to examine some of downtown’s historic structures and develop plans for restoration. An economic development plan will be created to boost both the number and vitality of businesses in the area. Downtown’s walkability will also be studied to see how to better connect downtown to surrounding areas, thus boosting pedestrian traffic.

“This will be a document that establishes our goals, provides us with a timeline and tools to make those goals happen,” explained Joanie Fitzwater, city planner. 

A steering committee of city officials, downtown building and business owners and other parties with a vested interest in the district will work with a team of three firms conducting the work.

Examining potential restoration of historic buildings will be a major focus on the study. Fitzwater said six to eight different buildings will be thoroughly vetted, giving owners an idea of what it will take to restore the structures.

One of those may well be the Randall Building, at 2 E. Main St. Owned by Jennifer Farmer, steering committee member and partner in a downtown mortgage business, the Randall building is a historic structure from the late 1800s. Farmer purchased the building in 2006 and has since put close to $500,000 into restoring the building. Posh Salon currently occupies the first floor space, but Farmer said more work needs to be done before the second floor can be rented.

“I still have quite a bit of work to do,” she said.

Taking part in the study would give Farmer a clear picture of what the building still needs, and could open doors for further grant opportunities to fund some of the work.

After completing this grant, the city can apply for the Main Street Revitalization Program, which could net the city $250,000 toward completing some of the restoration projects identified now.

“We would like to leverage (the Downtown Revitalization Plan) with other types of grant and loan funding opportunities so businesses can find the financing means to actually improve and restore their historic buildings,” Fitzwater said.

The bulk of MSRP money would go toward building restoration.

The rest of the current grant will help develop a plan to boost the economy of downtown, and identify ways to improve the vibrancy of the area by attracting more people to it.

Fitzwater said it’s too early to say what will eventually come of the grant, but things like marketing, creating new downtown events and possibly establishing a Tax Increment Financing district there are all on the table right now.

“These are tools we’ll be pulling out to see how we can revitalize the economy, as well as the streetscape and buildings,” she said.

Scott Burgins, senior project manager with Strategic Development Group, will look at both existing businesses and vacant storefronts to see what downtown is missing and where holes can be filled.

Though the project is just getting started, Burgins said Greenfield has a lot of things working in its favor.

“There is already a lot going on,” Burgins said. “There is a complete downtown with all sorts of buildings… there’s a lot of raw material.”

The challenge, Burgins said will be better utilizing the space available and figuring out how to get the traffic passing through downtown to stop.

Fitzwater said the project will be in full swing at the start of next year.

Organizers will work to establish goals for the project and a timeline for completing them. That is when contractors will start seeking out downtown businesses and property owners interested in participating.

Fitzwater said it will be important for stakeholders to get involved, especially if this grant leads to larger awards in the future.

“Those kinds of grants really depend on concerted, combined partnerships between government agencies and businesses,” she said. “Hopefully this downtown plan will open those doors.”

The steering committee has had a first meeting, but the project will officially get started in January when it is the primary topic of discussion at the Jan. 3 meeting of the Historic Board of Review. The completion date for the grant is Nov. 30.

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