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Mattapan to make case for Main Streets designation

Zack Huffman

The Mattapan Main Streets Initiative (MMSI) has its goals, and it has a plan for meeting them. Now it’s looking for public support to make their aspirations a reality.

When Lillie Searcy addressed a small crowd at the Mattapan branch of the Boston Public Library last week, she explained that the MMSI will need the community’s support if it is going to earn designation for Mattapan as a Main Streets district. The initiative is scheduled to make its public appeal to the Boston Main Streets program on Nov. 16.

Searcy, the director of Action for Boston Community Development Inc.’s Mattapan Family Service Center, has been among those helping lead the initiative.

“I believe we are ready for a Main Street program now,” she said.

Although the details are still in deliberation, the MMSI hopes to earn classification for Mattapan Square, lower Blue Hill Avenue and possibly a segment of Morton Street through the Main Streets program.

If Mattapan is able to earn designation, it would mean more financial assistance for the neighborhood, as well as increased organizing to give a facelift to the façades of existing businesses and working to attract new, successful businesses to the area.

Since the program’s inception in 1995, 19 Main Streets districts have been organized in Boston’s neighborhoods. The Main Streets program has attracted a total of 580 new businesses to the city, along with 3,906 new jobs, according to its Web site.

But Mattapan continues to be one of the few neighborhoods without a Main Streets district.

“There is a Main Street in every single community but one,” Searcy said.

In order to earn Main Streets designation, an application to the program must be submitted on behalf of the community by Nov. 16. The application will then be reviewed and scored by the program’s committee, and the MMSI will present its plan publicly on Nov. 24.

The location of the new Main Streets district will be announced on Dec. 2.

Since the Boston Main Streets program will only select one new district, competing neighborhoods must demonstrate that they have the greatest interest in and need for a district. Interest can be expressed through letters of endorsement sent by local business owners and residents to the city government.

And that’s why, Searcy said, community support is so important.

“Ultimately, you need the people. You want the people to endorse the project,” she said. “We want Main Streets. The people of Mattapan have wanted Main Streets for a long time, but there was no opportunity to apply.”

The initiative has set an Oct. 16 deadline for letters to be sent to the Boston Main Streets program.

According to Searcy, proposed plans to the Boston Main Streets program that exceed a geographical span of 15 blocks must explain why the proposal covers such a large area.

“They require that if you go over 15 blocks, you have to justify why,” she said.

In order to encompass the Mattapan Square, lower Blue Hill Avenue and Morton Street areas, which are Mattapan’s three primary business districts, the MMSI is arguing that a Mattapan Main Streets district must be as large as 20 blocks.

Local property owner Frank Williams was among those who attended last Monday’s meeting to show support for the proposed district.

“I think it is needed. There are some good people that want to see things happen, so I definitely support them,” he said. “Mattapan is probably one of the only communities that does not have a program that is going to consistently bring in some development for the businesses that are here.”

This will be the third effort to earn Main Streets designation in Mattapan since Mayor Thomas M. Menino helped engineer the creation of the Boston Main Streets program in 1995.

“There was an opportunity in 1995 and again in 1999, [but] there was some division. Some people didn’t want it, mostly in the business community, but they want it now,” said Searcy. “They are the key players in the effort.”

The program, which is based on a model designed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is intended to bolster local businesses by organizing designated “main streets” along with local management groups that will assist in acquiring loans or grants to improve the viability of those businesses.

The program operates on a four-point plan: organizing among the various members of the community, from business owners to residents; funding the renovation of the outer appearances of local businesses to make them more appealing to shoppers; promoting the district to attract new businesses; and, ultimately, improving the local economy.

Last week’s gathering was the initiative’s fourth public meeting since August, when it began its most recent drive to build community support for the plan. The MMSI has scheduled two more meetings to discuss their action plan for developing a proposal. The first will take place at the Mattapan library, located at 1350 Blue Hill Avenue, on Oct. 15 at 10:30 a.m. The second is scheduled for Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. at the Mattapan Family Service Center, located at 535 River Street.