At first glance, the red line that designates the boundaries of the proposed Newmarket Business Improvement District (BID) could send bristles up the back of many Southenders, Boston being such a territorial, turf-oriented city.
That red line extends well past Mass/Cass and encompasses all of Albany Street, the Boston Medical Center campus and over to Harrison Avenue in what is typically the heart of Worcester Square. All neighborhoods fear encroachment, and there are certainly some skeptics of the BID, but not as many as one might expect.
In fact, while some neighbors in other parts of the South End have been alarmed, those in Worcester Square are keeping an open mind to what such a program could do to help enhance quality of life in a frustrated area at the epicenter of the opioid crisis.
Sue Sullivan, director of the Newmarket Business Association, said she proposed the BID some time ago to enhance services to the Newmarket area and parts of the institutional South End. That came when her membership were at their wit’s end in dealing with the issues coming from the epidemic – whether trash, vagrancy, emergency situations, loitering, security and drug-use issues. Beyond that, the BID was an opportunity to introduce a transportation shuttle network as well – a nod to better security for the area.
Since COVID-19, she said the plan has begun to accelerate. She said she now has 80 percent of the signatories she needs to put the proposal before the City Council.
“It’s really become even more critical now,” she said. “I signed up another 15 parcels this week. People are realizing the importance. We are not on hiatus. It takes a while to get to all the property owners and explain it and getting them to sign on. It just takes time.”
Sullivan has 713 parcels in the boundaries, and getting about 65 percent of the owners on board is required to submit the BID to the City Council for review. Similar to the BID in downtown Boston, the Newmarket one would enhance services already provided and she said there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) proposed that would require the City to continue the same level of investment in the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan that exists now. That would make the BID something completely extra, and an enhancement to the area to fill gaps that now exist. It would be funded through an assessment on all properties, and that would be used to provide the services to those in the boundaries.
“The Police Department does an excellent job here and we have a good relationship,” she said. “But some things don’t rise to the level of a 9-1-1 call – or maybe take an hour if you do call to get a response because it’s not high level – and this could help that. When someone is sleeping on your doorstep, but you don’t want to call 9-1-1, this could be a solution. A lot of our businesses pay for private security already.”
When it comes to the South End, Sullivan said places like the former Flower Exchange, BMC, BU Medical Center, and some places over to Harrison Avenue have always been part of the business association and thus are included in the BID. Absentee landlords in the BID would be assessed, but Sullivan said with enthusiasm that owner-occupants would not.
“Interestingly, resident owner-occupants don’t pay into the BID, but they do get the benefits,” she said. “Resident non-owner occupants pay in, but at a lower amount…These areas adjacent to BIDs can also contract with the BIDs for services or the BID can move around its boundary if need be.”
Those benefits of the BID being on Harrison Avenue and Albany Street have drawn some intrigue from residents in Worcester Square – some of whom feel that it could solve some of their long-standing problems that large plans like Mass/Cass 2.0 can’t seem to solve.
“WSANA has long advocated that the medical and social service providers in Mass Cass create a common team of outreach workers that we could call when there is an incident too urgent for 311 and not urgent enough for 911,” said George Stergios, president of Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA). “We call one phone number and someone comes out who helps the person to the right provider: homeless shelter, engagement center, Health Care for the Homeless, etc. My hope is that the new Business Improvement District under the leadership of Sue Sullivan will have the resources and clout to pull something like this together.”
Sullivan said it’s not a plan to push things out of Newmarket, which has been rumored. In fact, she said she considers the South End a partner, and everyone is working to the same goal.
“It’s not like we’re going to push things to the South End or Andrew Square,” she said. “We want to also build systemic changes and I think we’ve been good community partners with the South End. It’s not like our issues have set boundaries. We’re all concerned about the same things.”
Some of the things that could be attractive include enhanced security, a shuttle to Mass Ave Station, Newmarket Station and Andrew Station, as well dedicated cleaning crews to enhance City efforts.
“Any way you look at it, an improved transportation, security and street cleaning effort for that area will be so much better for WSANA,” she said. “They really do stand to benefit in a lot of ways.”