Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Report Cites Barriers and Solutions for Magoun Square Revitalization

Seven of 15 storefronts in Magoun Square are vacant, out of about roughly 45 businesses overall, which is just one reason why city planners have turned their attention to revitalizing this historic business district.

On May 25, the Somerville Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development presented a progress report on the Magoun Square Revitalization Plan to the Board of Aldermen. The report is based on extensive study of the area—both by hitting the street to conduct business owner interviews and site reviews as well as by analyzing sales and spending data. Read the full report here: http://bit.ly/m1J9aU.

Magoun Residents Mainly Spend their Money Elsewhere

One telling finding: the report shows that Magoun Square residents are spending their money elsewhere. Just roughly 30 cents of every dollar spent on consumer goods by residents living within one-quarter mile of Magoun is spent in Magoun. In comparison, residents living within one-quarter mile of Winter Hill spend 62 cents of every “consumer” dollar at Winter Hill businesses.

Put another way, Magoun Square is failing to attract about $48 million in potential business from area residents per year. The report sites a number of reasons why this market remains untapped.



Poor "Street Feel" and Business Mix Cited as Barriers to Growth

Poor “street feel” is named as one contributor. Parts of the square lack a pedestrian-friendly streetscape, which reduces foot traffic. Causes for this include the width of Broadway, poorly maintained commercial properties, storefronts occupied by businesses unsuited for drop-in business, poor storefront lighting, parking lots in front of rather than behind businesses (which decreases the pedestrian feel), and confusing signage (some businesses still have signs from previous tenants).

Lack of differentiation in the business mix was also noted as a concern. While the square has a concentration of restaurants on par with nearby squares, the mix of service businesses does not currently meet resident needs as well as do other city squares. 


The low number of offices and service businesses also leads to a very low daytime population compared to other squares. Just 50 employees work in Magoun during daytime hours, while roughly 300 per square work in Winter Hill and Ball Square. That means one-sixth as many daytime employees are on-hand to potentially shop or dine in Magoun Square.





Need for Better Business Plans and Clear Visual Identity for Square Also Cited

According to the report, the square’s low rents can be a boon to new businesses. But likewise, the low investment can attract businesses with poorly developed business plans—which may be why many Magoun businesses fail after one year. Increased support for business owners via city programs such as the Best Retail Practices program, which offers free marketing and management consulting, were cited as needed efforts to better help owners develop effective business plans.

Meanwhile, the report notes that the area lacks a clearly defined visual identity. The neighborhood extends along Broadway to Trum Field and also west of Medford St., but no visual cues let passersby know they’ve reached the district until they arrive at the intersection of Broadway and Medford Street.

In 2010, a $3 million streetscape project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included the installation of ornamental streetlights, brick-inlayed crosswalks and sidewalks, and new road surfaces. All help create a cohesive neighborhood feel, but the report states that improvements to landmark buildings and recruitment of high-appeal tenants for them could better create visual gateways to the square.

Steps Going Forward

In short, the report concludes that to spur business, a focused, joint community-city-business response is needed—possibly along the lines of a Main Streets initiative as exists in East Somerville and Union Square.

Significant spurs for growth are expected. Once built, the new MaxPak development (199 residential units) and eventually the Lowell St. Green Line T-Stop should increase foot traffic, and thus business, in the square. But to better draw patrons, the cited barriers to growth must be overcome.

Community Meeting to Be Held at Olde Magoun's Saloon

To launch planning efforts, OSPCD will hold a community meeting at Olde Magoun’s Saloon soon (date TBA). Over the next week or so, ResiStat will also post data from the report, which includes data on nearby Winter Hill and Ball Square. To read the full report, click here: http://bit.ly/m1J9aU

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