ULI Boston Publishes Reimagining Communities Report

Manikka Bowman (Photo: Linkedin)

Boston – The Boston/New England District Council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) announced the publication of Reimagining Communities, a 31-page analysis of ULI
Boston/New England’s Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) program. The evaluation was commissioned to examine the impact of ULI’s TAPs process and assess if TAPs recommendations were implemented by communities.

TAP programs are run by ULI Boston/New England’s Real Estate Advisory Committee, containing senior leaders within the commercial real estate industry. Members of the community visit local municipalities, and advise them on land use and economic development, along with other local issues of importance.

Over 50 TAPs have been held over the past 20 years, and ULI Boston/New England was interested in measuring the impacts of the program. To do so, ULI enlisted Rivera Consulting, which was commissioned to examine the impact of TAPs on communities, identify which recommendations were implemented, understand where in the planning
process communities deem TAPs most useful, and establish a consistent set of follow-up questions and check-ins.

Rivera Consulting examined 50 TAPs, spanning from 2002-2019 utilizing both quantitative and qualitative evaluations. The study received responses from 46 of the 50 respondents, and 82% said their behavior and approach to municipal planning and economic development strategies were affected by the TAPs process, with 62% saying at least one key, developable asset addressed in their TAP report had been redeveloped consistently with ULI Boston/New England’s recommendations.

Ashland, one of the communities that served as a case study for the report, sought to develop an action plan to change the perception of the municipality as a “bedroom community.” The TAPs program advised Ashland to create a sense of place, improve downtown walkability, and conduct feasibility studies for town-owned parcels to incentivize private investment.

After the TAP, Ashland underwent a downtown planning initiative, and officials secured $6.8 million in municipal funding, a $3 million MassWorks Infrastructure Grant, and a grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Massachusetts Downtown Initiative to explore the possibility of a Business Improvement District (BID).

In Haverhill, Merrimack Street sat dormant and the TAPs panel recommended enhancements of unique public amenities and activity anchors to revitalize the space and added support for private building redevelopment. A series of nonprofit partnerships led to Harbor Place, a two-building, mixed-use complex featuring 80 mixed-income rental units, 15,000 SF of retail space, and more than 50,000 SF of commercial space. The project was supported with over $13 million in MassWorks infrastructure grants, and public investments supported connections to the boardwalk along the Merrimack River.

“We are pleased to see our work is strengthening and fortifying communities, creating livable and welcoming spaces for all community residents through sustainable municipal development and land use,” said Manikka Bowman, Director of Policy and Outreach for ULI. “ULI Boston/New England thanks all community stakeholders throughout Massachusetts and New England who graciously participated in the Reimagining Communities assessment.”

Major sponsors for the TAP program include MassDevelopment and Massachusetts Housing Partnership. The ULI Boston TAPs program provides a starting point for public/private partnership. The TAPs process serves as a means for these partnerships to begin, as evidenced by the fact that 67% of the 46 respondents said there were increased municipal investments related to the stated goals and recommendations of their TAP report.

“Supporting Urban Land Institute’s Technical Assistance Panel program is one of many ways we’re proud to help cities and towns make progress towards their local economic development goals,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Lauren Liss. “Since 2010 we’ve sponsored 31 Technical Assistance Panels across the Commonwealth – about half of which were in Gateway Cities – and this report demonstrates how the program has better positioned communities to reimagine spaces, leverage assets, and identify opportunities for investment.”

ULI Boston/New England has already implemented Rivera Consulting’s metrics into all TAPs conducted since spring 2019. The most recent TAP assessment was conducted in Salem, MA in September 2020, with the findings and analysis from the TAP panel slated to be published in November 2020.