24 Gateway City mayors and managers write to state legislators for An Act relative to strengthening Massachusetts’ economic leadership


May 7, 2024

Representative Jerry Parisella, Co-Chair
Senator Barry Finegold, Co-Chair
Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA, 02133
Re: H.4459– An Act relative to strengthening Massachusetts’ economic leadership

Dear Chairs Parisella and Finegold, and members of the Committee,

We, the undersigned mayors and managers of Gateway municipalities, ask you to include An Act to Promote Downtown Vitality (H.228/S.130) in your recommended text of House Bill 4459 when it is reported out of committee. The Joint Committee proactively included this language in its economic development package last session, and following up on that promising start, Rep. Antonio Cabral and Sen. John Cronin re-filed the Downtown Vitality Act last year on behalf of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus.

We strongly believe that including this language in the Governor’s bill will help ensure that the package addresses not just the needs of emerging industries like bio tech and clean tech but will also support local business districts for balanced and equitable growth across the state. Downtowns and main streets keep jobs and income circulating regionally, support property values, and make great places to live.

Small businesses districts in every region need vibrant, walkable areas to attract enough foot traffic to succeed in today’s challenging commercial environment. Online retail and big box stores have siphoned dollars away from local economies, contributing to economic and cultural displacement. An Act to promote downtown vitality (H.228/S.130) proposes dedicating 5% of the online sales tax revenue that the state collects into a fund that will invest in strengthening small business districts, from rural villages, to town centers, to urban squares. Every community in the commonwealth would be eligible.

We understand that the state’s revenue picture has changed since the bill’s successful hearing in October, and directing a mandatory portion of the online sales tax may not be feasible. However, we believe that with a small tweak to the language, the Legislature could still establish the Downtown Vitality Fund with a modest amount of seed funding and form the advisory committee to get the program up and running. By amending the language to allow the Legislature to appropriate “up to 5% of remote retailer sales tax revenue” each year, the Legislature and Administration would retain flexibility to identify a reasonable amount to appropriate each budget depending on economic conditions.

A Downtown Vitality Fund could be transformative, even with a modest sum, by enabling more communities to benefit from district management tools like business improvement districts, cultural districts, and parking benefit districts. These place-based tools unlock local governance and financing mechanisms that leverage private sector capital and nonprofit capacity in partnership with municipal governments.

Communities have demonstrated tremendous interest in these tools—there are 53 cultural districts alone in Massachusetts, and dozens of communities would like to explore forming a business improvement district (BID). But lack of a consistent state financing partner has prevented the communities who could most benefit, like our Gateway municipalities, from taking advantage. The start-up costs represent a difficult barrier and the state’s investment can ensure that districts add value to property owners and businesses without adding an onerous burden.

Massachusetts, with its walkable, unique places, has the foundation for small business success. But our built environment—our “hardware”—often lacks the financing and management “software” that enables these places to implement the staffing, services, marketing, and programming necessary to thrive. Great places are active 15-hours a day, 7 days a week, and they must be managed accordingly. This is not something municipalities or businesses can accomplish on their own. It requires a public-private-nonprofit partnership coordinated through a district management organization.

We thank you for your consideration and look forward to further discussion on this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact us or André Leroux at MassINC’s Gateway Cities Innovation Institute (aleroux@massinc.org) to discuss further.

Thank you,

Cathleen DeSimone, Mayor of Attleboro
Felicia Penn, Town Council President, Barnstable
Robert F. Sullivan, Mayor of Brockton
Fidel Maltez, City Manager of Chelsea
John L. Vieau, Mayor of Chicopee
Paul Coogan, Mayor of Fall River
Samantha M. Squailia, Mayor of Fitchburg
Melinda E. Barrett, Mayor of Haverhill
Joshua A. Garcia, Mayor of Holyoke
Daniel P. Rourke, Mayor of Lowell
Jared Nicholson, Mayor of Lynn
Brian DePeña, Mayor of Lawrence
Dean Mazzarella, Mayor of Leominster
Gary Christenson, Mayor of Malden
Neil Perry, Mayor of Methuen
Jon Mitchell, Mayor of New Bedford
Edward A. Bettencourt, Jr., Mayor of Peabody
Peter Marchetti, Mayor of Pittsfield
Thomas P. Koch, Mayor of Quincy
Patrick Keefe, Mayor of Revere
Dominick Pangallo, Mayor of Salem
Domenic J. Sarno, Mayor of Springfield
Shaunna O’Connell, Mayor of Taunton
Eric D. Batista, City Manager of Worcester

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