Mayor Martin Walsh announces increase in Boston Main Streets funding

Martin Desmarais | 4/17/2014, 9:08 a.m.

Mayor Martin Walsh gave a big boost to Boston Main Streets organizations, announcing that funding will increase $400,000 city-wide for their efforts to support local businesses. Walsh’s budget has allocated $75,000 for each of the city’s 20 Main Street organizations, which is a 30 percent increase from last year.

The move is seen as a push by Walsh to back his campaign promises to increase economic development throughout all parts of the city.

“Investing in our Main Streets districts preserves and protects our neighborhood commercial centers, and helps our small businesses thrive, grow, and adapt to the changing economy,” Walsh said in a statement. “Access to a variety of retail in neighborhoods is critical to maintaining robust and connected communities.”

Main Streets organizations offer varying business support services and programs, often specific to the needs of each district they represent. Examples of recent programs are enhanced cleanliness programs, storefront improvement programs, promotional events, farmers markets and social media training events.

According to Walsh, the increased funding will be used to implement innovative new programs to continue the critical support work.

Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Square Main Streets in Roxbury, said the increased funding is more than just a boost to programming. It is a lifeline to help keep her organization open.

Dudley Square Main Streets, like many main street organizations, gets by with one full-time staff person and relies heavily on additional funding from private businesses and organizations to supplement what the city provides in the annual budget and keep in operation.

According to Stanley, it is easier to get private sector funding to support programs than to just help pay overhead, so the boost in funding from the city is critical to help pay staff, pay rent and pay for necessary infrastructure.

The Boston Main Streets program was created in 1995 by former Mayor Thomas Menino with the goal of establishing improved commercial districts throughout the city. It was the first urban, multi-district Main Streets program in the country, has been lauded as a tool for civic change and served as a model for similar programs in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Detroit and New Orleans.

Locally, the Main Streets organizations have been credited with backing small businesses and residents in improving the economic health, physical appearance and development of commercial districts in neighborhoods throughout Boston.

The increase in funding for the Main Streets organizations in the next budget continues a rise in backing from the city. Three years ago, the city budget provided the Main Streets organizations with $30,000. Last year, that rose to $55,000 and now it will be $75,000.

As a Menino flagship program, many wondered if the new Walsh administration would continue to back the Main Streets initiative so strongly. By increasing the funding in the next budget, Walsh gave his affirmative answer.

“This shows the mayor’s commitment to economic development, which is what we do,” Stanley said.

“I appreciate the fact that Mayor Walsh recognizes the importance of small businesses in the community,” added Ed Gaskins, executive director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets in Dorchester.