By Kristen Levine, Reporter
The Local Rapid Recovery Plan is a state initiative set to help revitalize local businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19. The plan was introduced by Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to aid Massachusetts towns get back on their feet, offering funding and consultation services.
Dominique DuTremble of the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission brought forward a 30-minute presentation to the Selectboard on May 25, outlining the findings of a preliminary study of Princeton’s businesses and available assets.
“We’ve been really working with the town and how to understand how businesses have been affected by COVID-19,” she said. “More than two-thirds of Massachusetts communities are participating in the program. It’s Intended to be rapid: a six-month process to get acquainted with the area’s business community, working with you to come up with actionable strategies to help.”
Phase one of the plan process was to speak with local business owners and scope out the Princeton business district in a fact-finding mission. DuTremble noted that many businesses hope for help in the form of storefront and building facade improvements, the addition and improvement of public spaces and seating, and public accesses such as sidewalks and streetscapes. The investigation into revenue saw a 57% decrease in revenue, though no Princeton businesses were permanently shuttered.
“[The revenue decline] was to be expected,” DuTremble said. “But nobody closed permanently. Princeton weathered COVID better than other areas but there has still been enormous impact.”
The Recovery Plan will enter phase two with project recommendations. DuTremble noted that Princeton could be marketed as a unique point of interest – building off the town’s rich outdoors assets and appealing to a broader market.
“We’ve been talking to Sherry [Patch, Princeton Town Administrator] and other Town staff to apply for a grant to establish an eco-master plan,” DuTremble said. “The sheer amount of assets Princeton has, there is a great opportunity in terms of branding Princeton as an outdoor hotspot.”
DuTremble noted that vacant lots spotted in the business district are places of potential development. While unused now, the lots could be reclaimed and shaped into public-use spaces.
“There are a number of unique assets,” DuTremble said. “There are some areas that could use a little sprucing up or other attention. It is about how to reactivate the space and draw business to the area….Wthere’s a fair amount of less utilized space adjacent to development, vacant lots which could be utilized for something.”
Noting a lack of defined gateways into the business district, DuTremble spoke of the benefits of drawing attention to the area. A defining gate or signage marking Princeton’s business district could in turn help draw attention and interest into the area.
“As beautiful as the project area is, it doesn’t have a sense of ‘you have arrived in this commercial district’,” she said.
The Recovery Plan’s goals to revitalize towns worn down by weathering COVID is hopeful, looking to put a fresh spin on affected towns.
“The purpose of the program is to help the communities come up with actionable projects, based on scale and resources available,” DuTremble said. “The state is really interested in understanding where everybody lines up, and collectively how we’ve been impacted.”