Report outlines ideas to revitalize Shrewsbury’s Town Center

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The sun sets over downtown Shrewsbury. A recent Local Rapid Recovery Plan called for repainting of key sidewalks in the downtown area, among other things. Photo/Jesse Kucewicz
The sun sets over downtown Shrewsbury. A recent Local Rapid Recovery Plan called for repainting of key sidewalks in the downtown area, among other things.
(Photo/Jesse Kucewicz)

SHREWSBURY – From developing a calendar of events to implementing a public art program, Shrewsbury’s Local Rapid Recovery Plan aims to revitalize the Town Center. 

“There are many terrific recommendations outlined in the final report, some of which have already begun to be implemented,” Board of Selectmen Chair John Samia said during the board’s Oct. 26 meeting.

In an email, Assistant Town Manager Kristen Las added that Director of Planning and Economic Development Bernie Cahill had spearheaded the Recovery Plan project for the town. 

“The biggest takeaway is that there are still an abundance of unexplored opportunities that we can take advantage of in the Town Center,” Las said.

 

Recommendations

The Rapid Recovery Plan’s executive summary said local officials and leaders recognized that the Town Center was facing “identity and economic challenges,” which led to the commission of several studies.

“The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic not only slowed the town’s efforts to implement recommendations from these studies, but exacerbated the economic challenges facing businesses located in the Town Center,” the report said.

The report said the Shrewsbury Town Common was “underutilized,” noting that there isn’t an application to host events on the Common. The report further suggested developing a calendar of events page on the town website. 

In addition to developing an agreement to oversee management of the Common, the report suggested working with community partners on programming in the area.

“Draw people to Town Center by creating compelling reasons for them to visit,” it said.

The report said speed and traffic along Maple Avenue and Main Street in the area are significant obstacles. 

The report said roads and crosswalks were designed to meet the needs of cars instead of pedestrians, noting that crosswalks need to be repainted and that traffic signals don’t provide pedestrians with enough time to cross the street. 

Suggestions included making the Town Center more attractive to pedestrians and bikers while adding benches and trees to enhance the experience of people walking or shopping downtown. 

The report also suggested acquiring the Empire Cleaners site in the area and possibly redeveloping it as a public parking lot.

There are 65 storefronts in the Town Center. Eight were vacant as of April. Eighty-eight percent of the area’s businesses said they were impacted by the pandemic, according to the report.

The report noted that storefronts could improve their lighting, awnings and window transparency, finding that over a quarter of the properties required “significant” facade improvements. 

As such, the report suggested adopting a facade improvement program.

The report also suggested developing a public art program, which could include murals and wraps on utility boxes. 

The option to turn utility boxes into art surprised Las, who called the prospect a “new and unique idea that we had never considered before.”

 

Next steps

Shrewsbury has already begun taking steps to complete some of the projects proposed in the report.

For example, a request for proposals for a wayfinding signage project was recently put out to bid. Shrewsbury is also advertising for an assistant town planner who would help increase the administrative capacity to support these initiatives. 

Additionally, Shrewsbury has worked with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to make sidewalk widening part of the state’s ongoing paving project, Las said.

Las said Shrewsbury is working with the 495/MetroWest Partnership and the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission to identify funding opportunities for the plan.

 

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