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Tufts students outline ways to improve Marlborough downtown

January 28, 2010 – MARLBOROUGH — More events, expanded signs and better parking could help improve the city’s downtown area, according to a Tufts University plan presented yesterday.  The downtown action plan, prepared by Tufts graduate students, was a centerpiece of the annual meeting for Marlborough 2010, a state-chartered economic development corporation. The organization’s board of directors yesterday voted to change its name to the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation.

Marlborough has a vibrant downtown and the students offered simple steps to improve it, said Michael Hogan, chairman of the board of directors.

“It’s always nice to have someone from outside of the community to take a fresh look,” he said.

Possible events include outdoor movie nights, farmers markets and a John Brown Bell festival, said Adam Knoff, one of the students. The city could develop cross-promotions with businesses for events.

“It’s well-documented that people who spend money at a farmers market spend money downtown,” Knoff said.

The plan suggested the creation of a downtown coordinator, who could help organize events, among other tasks. Waltham has a downtown business coordinator who gets paid through Community Development Block Grant funds, said David Forbes, one of the students.

The city could also direct more traffic downtown with better signs, according to the plan. For example, there are no signs on the nearby rail trail to lead bikers downtown, where they may look to grab a bite to eat, Forbes said.

In addition, the plan recommended an increased use of banners along Main Street.

There are not enough signs for the downtown parking facilities, said Gabriel Lopez-Bernal, a Tufts student. Even though there are a number of spaces, residents perceive a lack of parking, he said. In addition, employees often use spaces in front of their businesses instead of letting customers take those street spots.

The Tufts students interviewed about 150 people on the street and between 20 and 30 businesses for the plan, a pro-bono project that dates back one year.

Hogan said the city has already done work on one of the plan’s recommendations – allowing outdoor seating at restaurants. The City Council approved an ordinance last year.

The group at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel also heard from Marilyn Whalley, the new Marlborough Economic Development Corporation executive director, who outlined her work plan for the year.

Proposed actions include overhauling the organization’s Web site, developing a downtown marketing plan, advocating for business expansion needs and helping businesses to acquire grants.

“There is still work to be done,” Mayor Nancy Stevens said.

Whalley said she was impressed with the city’s architecture and quality of its businesses.

Hogan recognized Tom Wellen, the previous executive director, for his work of nearly a year with the organization. Wellen worked on acquiring grant funding and getting tax breaks for local businesses, among other jobs, Hogan said.

(Paul Crocetti can be reached at 508-490-7453 or pcrocett@cnc.com.)

By Paul Crocetti/Daily News staff
The MetroWest Daily News

This story originally appeared in the Metro West Daily News on January 28th, 2010 – see original news story