Southborough downtown business district planning initiative under way


By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer

Southborough’s Main Street
Photo/Jane Keller Gordon

Southborough – Members of the Southborough’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) believe in planning. Currently, their efforts are focused on developing a strategic plan for Southborough’s downtown business district. This planning initiative is to enhance downtown amenities while preserving local charm along Southborough’s Main Street, from Boston Road and Newton Street to Latisquama Road.

The timing seems right. The downtown business district, along with adjacent areas, will be undergoing $7.2M in infrastructure improvements, funded by state and federal money.

Southborough’s EDC was established four years ago by the Board of Selectmen. Its mission is “to stabilize residential taxes through the growth of the town’s commercial and industrial tax base, while preserving the character and charm of Southborough.”

Vice Chair Julie Connelly explained the work of the committee.

“We provide technical assistance to businesses who are interested in locating in town, we track vacancy rates, hold broker meetings, and meet with local businesses. We’ve worked hard to market ourselves and create a unique brand,” she said.

Chair Dave McCay, Connelly and their fellow board members all agree that Southborough should establish a strategic development plan for the downtown business district that benefits residents and businesses.

“Economic development is community development,” McCay said. “Historically, Southborough has been lucky in terms of establishing businesses. To better understand our local economy, in 2013 we commissioned a study by the MetroWest Economic Research Center at Framingham State University. The results were impressive. Southborough possesses a highly skilled labor force, diversified industrial base, and high wage employment.”

Committee member Chris Robbins added, “There are over 7,000 people employed in 19 industry sectors. We have 20 not-for-profits and companies that conduct commerce all over the world.”

“We also learned that there’s a lot of competition for jobs nearby, regionally, nationally and internationally,” said McCay.

Recently, Southborough’s EDC conducted a Downtown Business Survey. Connelly described extensive efforts to recruit the survey’s 427 participants.

According to McCay, the survey “showed resounding support for improvements downtown, including boutique restaurants and retail, beautification, and even small-scale mixed-use.”

He added, “I believe that businesses and residents want the same thing – amenities. They want coffee shops, restaurants and bike trails – things that enrich day-to-day life in a town center.”

Following up on the survey, Southborough’s EDC held an open meeting Nov. 30.

“We broke down into four groups: investment opportunities, zoning, infrastructure, and beautification projects,” McCay explained. “We got a lot of good suggestions.”

The subgroups brainstormed about ways to get past certain hurdles that hinder growth opportunities downtown.

Southborough’s EDC is contracting the Urban Land Institute’s Advisory Panel Service, at a cost of $5,000. The service will assemble a panel of experts from diverse planning-related fields. According to their website, their objective is to “help communities gain fresh insight and come to innovative solutions for complex land use and real estate development challenges.”

McCay and Connelly hope to present these findings during Southborough’s next Town Meeting, scheduled for a date to be determined this spring.

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