Kickstarting the Heart:Downtown District Coordinator Looks to Launch Events

By Seth Daniel

The bones of downtown Chelsea are discussed often.

They’re good bones, many have said over the last year.

But now the City and it’s new Downtown Coordinator, Mimi Graney, are ready to put some meat on the bones of the downtown business district.

Graney was brought on in March after about six months of searching for the right candidate – an effort championed by City Manager Tom Ambrosino – and this week she announced her office’s first major initiative called Chelsea Prospers.

The effort will kick off on May 25 in a celebration at the Apollinaire Theatre at 6 p.m.

The effort will highlight the work of the new Downtown Task Force, a police initiative using four dedicated officers on patrol in the downtown that meet once a week with a committee of residents, business owners and City workers to tackle ongoing issues of public safety and quality of life.

Beyond that, Graney will announce several events scheduled for this summer to beef up the excitement from Bellingham Square to Chelsea Square – and all areas in between.

One of the first initiatives will be a program she calls Chelsea Lunch Marketplace, which will run every Wednesday on the City Hall Lawn from mid-July through September.

“This will be a series of outdoor lunch events and it will have a Farmer’s Market look, but won’t be a Farmer’s Market,” she said. “We’ll have vendors selling food with offerings like a Food Truck, but it won’t be a Food Truck. There will be juices, ice cream and desserts too. There will be a community booth with presentations from places like Healthy Chelsea and the Chelsea Public Library. We’ll also have live music. We wanted to expand the offerings for downtown at lunch. I’m looking at it as a business incubator with businesses that may be too small to have a brick and mortar store yet, or maybe it’s a business that’s looking to come to Chelsea and wants to see if it’s a good fit.”

And speaking of live music, Graney has scheduled a concert series that will take place every Thursday outdoors in Chelsea Square.

That effort will kick off on Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. with the Cuban Fusion band ‘Las Sugar Kings.’

Other potential concerts include the music styles of Zydeco, Jazz and Reggae.

“The concerts will be a night activity, where the lunch will be a day activity,” she said. “We’re trying to make Bellingham Square the day area and  Chelsea Square the night area.”

Throughout the summer, Graney said they will engage the community with social media in a photo contest that helps to better tell the Chelsea story. The winners of that contest will have their pictures displayed in City Hall in an exhibit entitled ‘Chelsea in Color.’ Those who attend the exhibit will get to vote for the best in the show.

The winner will have his or her photo made into greeting cards that will be sold during the holiday season to benefit the downtown programming.

Overall, Graney said it’s important to keep the momentum going so that people begin to be comfortable in spaces that have been challenging over the years, places like Bellingham Square.

“I’m wanting to make it more of a frequent activity,” she said. “If it happens only one time a year, people do forget about it. It doesn’t have to be one big thing, but a lot of times several small things can change the feel of a place for people. It will help people feel different about the space when they are there more often. People will begin to associate it less with the challenges and more with the fact that great events happen here.”

Graney said she came to the City from a similar position in Union Square, Somerville, where she was activating the space there in a kind of Main Streets program. That public-private partnership program, made famous in Boston many years ago, is what the City is looking to do for the downtown district.

Graney said she already sees great potential in the area, as the foot traffic, the buzz and the new investment already exist. She said that part of the battle is taking care of itself, which is very encouraging.

“You have a lot of good things already happening in the fabric of the community that you want to have,” she said. “You have great businesses with long-time owners who are passionate and you have new businesses coming in who are super ambitious and progressive thinking and looking to invest here for the long term.”

She said she also has plans for Street Scape changes (returning the trees, making wider sidewalks), a storefront facade improvement program, and a one-year business help program with Boston University called Economic Vitality Institute.

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