This week I gave a presentation about economic development and the history of our town center to the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission‘s CEDS group . The committee includes State Representatives, directors of community and economic development, cultural arts and business liaisons, other Chambers of Commerce, city council members and more!
Every CEDS meeting has a topic, and this month’s topic is on revitalizing town centers. I was asked to come in and give a presentation on Amesbury’s downtown, along with the towns of West Newbury and Andover.
As I was putting this presentation together, I learned some pretty amazing things about the history of Amesbury’s town center and downtown, as it pertains to economic development;
- A lot of what we see today in downtown and throughout Amesbury has been in the works for decades. The Millyard was a dirt field until the granite blocks were put in for the amphitheater in the 1990s, and still that space could use more programming. The work of economic development is never done!
- Amesbury didn’t have a zoning policy until the 1970s, and it was updated in the 80s to make sure that we didn’t continue the sprawl and build on our farmlands. If we didn’t do that, we may not have some of the places that we’re most proud of, like our farms!
- The zoning also pushed to have people fill in the buildings that were already here. Renovations can be costly, and many developers preferred to build new instead of renovating old buildings. The City continued to push through zoning, and now this is why we have the bustling and beautiful downtown that we have today!
- There are some funding sources/grants that have been around for decades that we still use today! The City did a push to update building facades in 1980. Building owners could update their windows, awnings, and re-paint or resurface store fronts, all through a Community Development Block Grant. A second facade program was offered again in 2003 with the City and Chamber of Commerce (then ‘Alliance for Amesbury’).
Here’s a real life example of economic development in our town! Norman’s was a restaurant that was built in front of a mill building, leaving the mill building empty and abandoned.
In the 1980s, Norman’s was torn down to reveal the mill building behind it, and the renovation and restoration began so it could be used.
Today the building is one of the many beautiful facades we have that line our downtown streets! And the space in front where Norman’s parking lot was is now a gorgeous pedestrian area with trees and benches. We’re particularly fond of this building, since this is where our office is!!
Starting this past summer, we began programming this space. We put corn hole boards out and added a hand-painted piano. It’s become a wonderful place to hang out and spend time in downtown!
Economic development can take a long time, but it’s worth it! Wouldn’t you agree?
Another example… The space that we affectionately call the “Boiler Room”, which sat empty for decades after the boilers were removed, was just filled in the summer of 2017. Not sure what spot I’m talking about? Brewery Silvaticus!