The South End Forum has been so successful in uniting the various neighborhood associations over the past 15 years that the business community is now following suit in a partnership that has established the South End Business Forum.
Since last February, Forum Moderator Steve Fox has been working with South End business leader Eve Ward, who heads up the South End Business Alliance (SEBA) to launch the new Business Forum, and on Tuesday, Nov. 12, they did just that.
“One thing SEBA hasn’t been in the last few years is very effective in addressing issues,” said Ward at the outset of the first meeting in the AC Hotel. “We have become very effective as a networking organization, but not as an advocacy organization. We need more of a voice in the South End and we believe we have found that vehicle in this Forum…What we’re really trying to do with the Business Forum is bring people in the business community together. Business owners often get siloed in the South End, and we don’t connect on important issues. We’re hoping in 12-months-time this is a full room and people will know that their concerns can be addressed here.”
Fox told the audience that the neighborhood Forum began 15 years ago on the issue of trash, which was plaguing every neighborhood association in the South End. While many of the 23 neighborhood associations had their own issues they cared about, there were a handful that required everyone to come together. The quarterly meeting is now a standing-room-only situation, and has been the place to address overarching issues.
“It was unusual 15 years ago for neighborhood association people to sit down with people in the field from the Public Works and learn what they could and could not do,” he said. “Now that is common. I think that’s what the Business Forum could turn into and I really see us working together cooperatively on a bunch of these issues.”
The first meeting on Tuesday addressed public safety, and the key speaker was Capt. Steven Sweeney. He addressed some of the lessons learned from a spate of commercial burglaries at businesses in the South End this past January and February.
One of the recommendations was for cash-only businesses not to announce that with a sign. Another recommendation was not to keep cash on the premises overnight – and also create a sign that says as much. Lighting in the alleyways and cameras were also a major suggestion by the captain.
“There’s often a lot of work going on behind the scenes, and in this case after some time we were able to make an arrest using a palm print of the suspect,” said Sweeney. “If you unfortunately do get broken into, don’t touch anything. We can use the fingerprints, and in the case this year that led to an arrest.”
Bradley St. Amand of GTI Properties said the police have been a great resource to their business tenants at SoWa on a number of occasions. He encouraged businesses to reach out, and others suggested the new Business Forum make a list of do’s and don’ts for area businesses.
“I don’t think everyone understands what a great resource the D-4 team is and the community resource officers,” he said. “They do a lot already and they will do more if we ask. What I took from the incidents we had is about what we can do in a moment, being aware and taking precautions.”
Others in the room were concerned that media reports about the South End could be affecting business.
“I do feel like my foot traffic is down,” said one Tremont Street business owner. “It doesn’t feel the same going on my second year. I don’t know why, but I think other business owners say the same.”
Elizabeth Beutel of the AC Hotel said one issue is that tourism is down 40 percent this year, and there are far fewer conventions in town. Those that are coming have fewer participants extending their stay. She said she felt the Business Forum needed to push for more publicity with the Convention and Exhibition Bureau.
“There’s not even a picture of the South End in their literature and we have one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Boston,” she said. “I think we should push for more publicity. There are a lot of businesses here and many might just think of us as restaurant row.”
Another major concern amongst the business community is the re-design of Tremont Street, which will greatly affect merchants on that street. One business owner in the 600th block of Tremont said she knew very little about the project until asked by a friend.
Ward said they hope to make the Tremont Re-Design a major topic of discussion at the next Business Forum meeting after the new year, still framed around the topic of public safety. That meeting has not yet been set, but Ward said they would call it in the coming weeks.