Crighton bill helps cities and towns manage downtowns and Main Streets

BOSTON The Massachusetts House and Senate voted to include state Rep. Brendan Crighton’s language establishing Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) in their respective budgets, potentially creating a new tool for cities and towns in Massachusetts to establish local partnerships to manage and support vibrant, walkable places like downtowns and Main Streets.

The Lynn Democrat’s legislation would allow local groups of property owners and other stakeholders to work together to create a management plan for a district and then implement the plan. CBDs are required to be initiated through a petition process followed by public hearing and municipal vote of approval.

CBDs provide services that are not supported by the municipality, which may include items like sidewalk cleaning, cultural programming, public art, branding and marketing, street furniture, landscaping, and more. The partnership is managed by a managed by a 501(c)(3) organization, and is financed by the property owners, donations, and program revenues.

“Community Benefit Districts provide another tool for municipalities to grow their local economies and build good neighborhoods for people to live, work and play. This nationally proven model will create opportunities in downtowns and on Main Streets across the Commonwealth,” Crighton said.

State Sen. Thomas McGee, a co-sponsor of the bill and Senate budget amendment added, “We must continue to find innovative ways to create jobs and opportunities in Gateway Cities like Lynn. CBDs are the type of public-private partnership that improves both the quality of life for local residents and promotes economic growth.”

The Community Benefit District proposal has been crafted with input from top district management experts like Ann Burke from the Western Mass Economic Development Council, who helped establish most of the Business Improvement Districts in Massachusetts; and Marco Li Mandri, the President of New City America based in San Diego, who has helped create over 75 districts in states all over the country.

“Lynn’s economy is largely made up of small businesses and we need to do all we can to help them thrive,” said bill co-sponsor state Rep. Dan Cahill. “Community Benefit Districts can help improve infrastructure, cleanliness, public safety, and marketing opportunities, among many other services that help local economies grow.”   

Massachusetts has an existing “business improvement districts” law, and community benefit districts work in a similar way. However, CBDs include a number of differences that may make them more attractive to certain communities and are designed to implement a broader community vision. In addition to commercial areas, CBDs could be used to manage cultural districts, historic districts, parking districts, and collective purchasing arrangements. They are designed to be easier to establish and dissolve; as a result, they could be implemented more easily by districts that include many small property owners and low-income areas.

As a result, CBDs have a variety of additional safeguards to protect small property owners, including:

  • They must be managed by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity.
  • CBDs require signing a Memorandum of Agreement with the municipality.
  • The weight of large property owners is capped at 20% during the formation process, no matter how large they are.
  • Municipal approval is tighter, since in cities the mayor must also approve, and in towns with a population of less than 10,000, town meeting approval is required.
  • The petition requirements for CBDs are more detailed and include providing an overall vision, governance structure, board of directors, and staffing plan.

André Leroux, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, stated, “Successful places make a thriving local and state economy. Millennials and Baby Boomers are flocking to areas that have shops, housing, restaurants, and quality public spaces within walking distance. CBDs will enable more communities to compete while improving the quality of life for local residents.”

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