Washington Gateway in Boston, MA
Massachusetts | 2005 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 5/9/2005
Located in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts, Washington Street was once the only land gateway to the original city of Boston and was lined with historic commercial buildings. However, 40 years of urban renewal decimated the commercial district, razing all but 10 blocks and a handful of historic buildings in scattered sites. This former grand boulevard was deserted and perceived to be unsafe; and was dissected by an above-ground expressway.
By 1995 the expressway had been removed and the city controlled the majority of the Washington Street land. Neighborhood associations solicited Mayor Menino’s assistance to create a task force that would forge a common purpose and leverage resources to revitalize the neighborhood shopping district and celebrate its diverse history. The community wanted to use the Main Street Four-Point Approach as the model to implement the task force’s recommendations. In 1997 they received a Boston Main Street designation and formed Washington Gateway Main Street, Inc.
Initial Main Street efforts included rezoning Washington Street as a “Neighborhood Development Area” and getting the transportation authority to implement street improvements that would accommodate either light rail vehicles or buses. Washington Gateway worked hard to overcome the negative perceptions held over from the urban renewal days.
Today, after $520 million of investment, $400 million of which came from private investment, the Gateway district is the heart of the surrounding neighborhood. National and regional publicity touts it as a vibrant place to live, work, and shop. Thanks to the work of hundreds of volunteers who have donated nearly 4,500 hours a year to stabilizing and attracting businesses; seeking developers; reviewing 80 new buildings, renovations and storefront improvements; and forging strategic partnerships with community organizations and government departments, the district has been transformed.
The Main Street program positioned itself as the information hub for merchants and citizens alike. It engages businesses through by offering technical and design assistance; reviews their development projects; helps them obtain storefront improvement grants the citywide Main Street program; and guides them through expansion and rehabilitation of their properties.
A new rapid bus transit line, complete with kiosks chronicling the history of the neighborhood, provides easy access to downtown. Washington Gateway provides technical assistance to help property owners through the review of renovation and building plans, to help recruit businesses to fill the remaining new commercial space, and to help existing businesses retain and expand their customer base.