NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is hoping to build on the recent enthusiasm surrounding the Small Business Revolution to leverage those online votes into online dollars.
The goal: to raise $25,000 by May 5 toward a matching MassDevelopment grant to make historic Eagle Street more attractive to pedestrians and visitors.
"We all love Eagle Street ... it's got that cool feel to it," said Benjamin Lamb, City Council president, who's spearheading the effort. "It's a really nice feel-good project for the city."
The effort is being run by the NAMAzing Initiative through the crowdfunding website Patronicity and with the nonprofit Partnership for North Adams as the financial agent.
The initiative, a former Northern Berkshire Community Coalition effort, was reactivated by, as Lamb describes it, "a group of people that wants to do cool projects in North Adams out of our love for North Adams and with the love of others from our community."
The group has spent months meeting at the Roots Teen Center with Eagle Street residents, property owners and businesses to come up with ideas on how to freshen the one-way street.
Their ideas were a "parklet" for more social space, gateways to mark each entrance of the street, branded trash and recycling receptacles and highly visible signage for each business.
"All of this will coalesce to bring branding to Eagle Street so that when someone walks down Eagle Street, they're getting an experience," said Roots' Executive Director Jess Sweeney in a video created for fundraising. "It's not just a street off the beaten path."
Some of this was inspired by the Eagle Street Rising project created and researched by a group of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students in 2013 that transformed the street with outdoor cafes, gardens and art installations for one day.
Lamb said NAMAzing has a mission statement that spells out its stewardship of the history and heritage of Eagle Street.
"We really went into thinking about tangible outcomes ... simple, small things that can be done to make the street really more attractive," he said.
That could include, like Eagle Street Rising, portable installations that could be removed during winter, or more permanent aspects like the signage at the entrances. The entry portal from Main Street would be designed with pedestrians in mind to tie into the main drag and since traffic can't enter; the other end, by the flatiron building, would be created for motorists.
"Our quest with this was basically to do something that would draw more attention and visibility to Eagle Street," Mayor Richard Alcombright said.
The mayor said his role is in supporting the effort and he appears in the video, in which he reminds residents "This is your city, this is your Eagle Street."
"We did a good job with the video and we'll see what kind of response it gets," he said.
The fundraising came about when Lamb said he got an email out of the blue from Patronicity's New England Director Jonathan Berk looking for a project in Western Mass.
Like other crowdfunding sites, Patronicity offers the opportunity to bring individuals and organizations together to make change, in this case, in raising funds for civic initiatives with public agencies.
Two other regional communities have used Patronicity: the Mastheads writers-in-residence project in Pittsfield, focusing on some of the area's more famed residents and visitors, has garnered $42,990 toward its $50,000 goal; Northampton raised $10,150 ($150 over its goal) to transform the Cracker Barrell Alley into a pedestrian plaza.
NAMAZing is working with MassDevelopment, one of several economic agencies partnering with Patronicity. The initiative had to go through several phases of approval, as with any grant, said Lamb, before getting the green light.
MassDevelopment's Commonwealth Places program offers matching dollar-for-dollar grants up to $50,000 for projects activating new or underused public and community spaces. Instead of guaranteeing private or public funds up front, Patronicity is used as the fund raising source.
"Commonwealth Places helps support projects, like The NAMAzing Eagle Street Initiative, that leverage resources and inspire individuals to invest in their communities," said MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones in a statement. "We are glad to support the city's efforts to realize Eagle Street's potential by creating a lively, attractive business district where residents and visitors alike can engage with the North Adams community."
Lamb said it was important that the Eagle Street Initiative be a grassroots effort, comparing it to the outpouring that resulted from Deluxe Corp.'s Small Business Revolution. The city had been in the running for a $500,000 economic development injection for Main Street and its small businesses, but lost out in the online voting.
"This speaks to the energy of the Small Business Revolution," he said. "We might not have won the money from Deluxe but we're working to keep our revolution going locally."
The revitalization of Eagle Street has been a topic for years. The home of many small businesses and historic buildings, the street's suffered in recent decades. Ideas over the years have ranged from shutting it down to traffic to make a pedestrian market to tearing down some buildings to create a park to installing a roof over the entire street.
The question of Eagle Street isn't new apparently. Lamb said local historian Joe Manning showed up at one meeting with a brochure from the 1920s about improving the street. And a 1926 North Adams Transcript article quoted a city councilor saying, "We have heard many different ideas for the improvement of Eagle Street and today that short stretch of street is the most puzzling problem we have."
"This idea of reinventing Eagle Street has been going on for like 100 years," said Lamb. "Some of the same things we were talking about, they were taking about in 1920."
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