BOSTON– The Downtown Boston Business Improvement District announced “Level Up Downtown” – a comprehensive economic development initiative designed to accelerate the neighborhood’s post-pandemic evolution and forge its new identity.
BID President Michael Nichols says the organization will dedicate at least $2 million of operating funds to the three-year effort. He says the BID’s work on “Level Up Downtown” will reduce retail vacancy rates, encourage long-term tenancy and creative pop-ups, and provide a vibrant and welcoming environment for residents, office workers, and visitors.
Ultimately, he says the initiative will redefine Downtown Boston as a creative entertainment and nightlife destination. It will also modernize the area’s retail offerings with a focus on authentic and equitable retail that reflects the innovation and cultural energy of the Boston region, especially from BIPOC-owned businesses.
The BID’s $2 million investment will fund several initiatives including:
- Identifying New Retailers – comprising recruitment work to encourage non-profit and small business entrepreneurs to locate in Downtown Boston, including a match-making initiative that links property owners with potential new tenants and related “wrap-around” services to help with design, marketing and other business success ingredients;
- Activating Vacant Storefronts – by developing new neighborhood pop-up business
incubation spaces and new community gathering spaces inspired by the BID’s “3rd Space” pop-up arts and cultural event venue, which drew thousands of visitors during a threemonth trial run in early 2023;
- Designing Destination Public Art & Programming – by activating broad sections of the
neighborhood through a new contemporary public art program and a major expansion of
unique events including block parties, multi-day festivals and programming partnerships;
- Enhanced Marketing & Communications Efforts – by creating campaigns to support the
District’s booming restaurant scene, including efforts aimed at promoting lunch, dinner and late-night options for residents, workers and visitors;
- Supporting Development of a Late Night Economy – by encouraging policy development
and zoning alignment for a 24-hour neighborhood that supports hospitality workers,
tourists, students, and others in the enjoyment of downtown; and
- Dedicating Staff Positions to Downtown’s Economic Development Efforts – Sean Webster
has been appointed Manager of the “Level Up Downtown” Initiative. Formerly with the
Boston Foundation and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Webster has been working with the BID team since January 2023 as a consultant with Public Sphere Projects to manage elements of the BID’s retail tenancy, pop-up activations, and arts and culture efforts.
The BID’s funding leverages investments made through the City of Boston’s S.P.A.C.E Grant
program, which provides funding to businesses seeking new retail spaces in commercial
districts, including Downtown Boston. The BID is working now to place companies who
received funding in the first round of S.P.A.C.E. grants. Applications for round two opened on October 2, 2023.
“‘Level Up Downtown’ will build the Downtown Boston of the future,” Webster added. “The next few years offer a unique opportunity to position the neighborhood to be a more well-rounded, culturally relevant hub for our city. This can be a neighborhood where economic opportunity is achieved more equitably and where a new generation of businesses showcases the full vibrancy of Boston.”
Nichols says the enhanced effort comes as the neighborhood is seeing promising trends in
retail and restaurant growth, foot traffic, and general interest in visiting the city’s core areas.
Among the recent highlights:
- Ground level retail vacancy in the BID area dropped significantly after major BID- and City of Boston-led efforts in the last year. The number of vacant storefronts dropped 22% (from 95 to 75) in the past 12 months.
- Since April 2021, pedestrian foot traffic Downtown has grown for 30 consecutive months, compared to the same months one year prior.
- Boston’s largest office lease of the year was signed by Deloitte when it committed to the
newly developed Winthrop Center that spans Downtown Crossing and the Financial
- European retailer Snipes, one of the fastest-growing streetwear retailers in America,
opened a flagship store on Washington Street in Downtown Crossing last month,
representing one of the neighborhood’s largest retail leases since the pandemic.
“The new initiatives we have built over the last year are working, and there’s a new downtown emerging. With ‘Level Up Downtown’ we are taking this neighborhood to the next level,” Nichols says.
Various developers, retailers, government officials, and programming partners are engaged in supporting the development of the new initiative. Several weighed in on the impact the
Downtown Boston BID has had on their recent successes:
“The BID has helped me so much, from supporting my successful application for the City of
Boston S.P.A.C.E. grant funds, to sourcing the perfect downtown storefront for my business, to helping me find an architect and getting my lease signed,” said Akou Diabakhate, CEO and owner of Bold Skin Babe salon, which will soon open near City Hall. “Opening another location isn’t easy, but the BID’s done everything they can to ensure we will be successful downtown.”
“I never thought I’d have the help I got when the BID stepped in to partner with me and my team on the ‘Black Outside Block Party,” said event promoter Daniel Francois, of Kickback Boston. “Together we brought hundreds of Black professionals together for a day-long social event in Downtown Crossing and proved that the heart of our city could look and feel different than many of us ever thought.”
“The BID has been a tremendous proactive partner this past year,” said Greg McQuade,
Senior Vice President of Asset Management for Jamestown LP, which attracted and supported Silver Dove Afternoon Tea restaurant and the forthcoming home furnishings retailer (and S.P.A.C.E. grantee) Flourish & Foundry to Tremont Street in the past year. “They stepped up and worked hard to help us fill vacant retail and ensure that our new tenants succeed. As BID members, we are excited to see what the ‘Level Up Downtown’ effort has in store the next few years and how the BID will continue to foster a more diverse and dynamic downtown,”