One might have seen the colorful paint job on the gazebo at Bellingham Square and wondered what it was all about.
Well, it’s more than just a colorful paint job.
Rather, it is the first step in what business and City leaders hope will be a coordinated plan for the downtown business district – a plan that has already gained the confidence of state government with Chelsea getting two $20,000 grants to further the project along.
Carlos Matos, a fellow assigned to Chelsea from the MassDevelopment Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) program, said the gazebo was just the first piece of several placemaking initiatives they hope to achieve with the Chamber, a new business lab dubbed CHISPA BizLab, and the Chamber Foundation – among many other partners.
“The gazebo was the beginnings of this placemaking and focusing attention on the downtown,” he said. “It’s bright and like the things you’ve seen in Boston. We studied it and these are designs that will resonate with residents of Central America and South America in shape and color. They will also appeal to everyone because it adds color and vibrancy to the area.”
“The initiative is working well so far,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “Hopefully, progress will continue in our efforts to revitalize the Downtown.”
Sergio Jaramillo, who is a long-time Chamber member and the new president of the Chamber Foundation, said they hope to use a coordinated approach to bring life to the downtown, help businesses and make downtown Chelsea a place to be.
“Our desire is to have Chelsea be a destination point for the region – just like Chinatown and the North End and as it is becoming in East Boston,” he said. “We want to have Chelsea be that place they want to come to because of the activities and food and quality of life that is here…Jay Ash was great for building up the coffers of the City again and building up Everett Avenue. I think now we are on the cusp and ready to do the other half of the city.”
Added Matos, “There are great opportunities on Everett Avenue and the question is now how do we transform them from isolated goals to a greater economic impact and draw them to the downtown for that greater economic impact. That’s the challenge we’re working on now.”
An extension of the gazebo branding effort, now being dubbed ‘Chelsea Centro’ as a test run – complete with bags and buttons as promotional tools, is a $20,000 grant from the state that will bring the same bright color scheme to Luther Place – where the successful Night Market has been held twice this summer.
The parking lot/market will be painted in bright colors, and also be painted to accommodate basketball or street soccer – giving it many different opportunities for activation. That will be supplemented by murals on the walls in the same color scheme, and sun shades to protect from the summer heat. That grant is supported by a $55,000 matching grant from the Chamber, which will also help to provide programming for the district.
Chamber Executive Director Rich Cuthie has been very excited about the branding of the downtown using the grant and the Chamber’s resources. He said, like Jaramillo, that the district is on the cusp of something very exciting. That is particularly the case for the storefront improvement program, which has been paved by the passing of new storefront regulations by the City Council this year.
Part of that will be financed by the new CHISPA BizLab, which the state awarded a $20,000 grant to start. That will be supplemented by a $6,000 grant by the Chamber Foundation.
Meaning “spark” in Spanish, CHISPA will help to provide small business technical assistance and advocacy for Latino businesses. It will also serve as a business incubator for new startups in Chelsea’s business district. That assistance will particularly go towards helping the food-related businesses in the district.
Already, CHISPA director Deise Paraguay has started talking to local businesses, officially beginning on July 15. Right now she said she is listening and learning – trying to bring everyone together. She will also act as the organizer of all of the projects involved with the re-branding effort.
Jaramillo said they have hired a company to fly a drone up and down Broadway to highlight the district. Similarly, they have contracted with a professional kitchen to bring in all of the restaurant owners from Broadway to consult with professional chefs. Using traditional recipes, they will work to invigorate their menus and give them new life.
Jaramillo said he is confident that in a few years, the new efforts will all pay off with an enlivened and exciting downtown for residents and those who want to come to Chelsea as a destination.
“I see in a few years that we will have an opportunity for the business community to capture a new market,” he said. “There will be more going on here and it will be more visually interesting for residents and visitors coming here. When people say, ‘Where should we go to dinner?’ They will say they want to go to Chelsea. Creating places where people want to live and visit is the best thing to do.”
Added Matos, “A lot of people are clamoring for authenticity in the places they go to. The places in Cambridge and Somerville are maybe lacking that. We think Chelsea has that authenticity you want and can’t get anywhere else. We want to highlight that, and that’s what we are setting out to do now.”