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City Council Pursues Business Improvement District in Central Square

Central Square
The Central Square subway station offers a fast and easy way to get to the shops around Central Square. Cambridge City Council voted Monday to commission a feasibility study for a Business Improvement District in Central Square.
The Cambridge City Council adopted a policy order to explore funding options for a Business Improvement District in Central Square at a meeting Monday.

The council voted unanimously for the feasibility study on a Central Square improvement district with the exception of Councillor Craig Kelley, who was absent from the meeting.

To fund an improvement district, businesses in the area typically pay an increased tax, which goes towards projects that promote a cleaner and safer environment.

“The menu of services provided by BIDs vary, but generally include some combination of sanitation, security, capital improvements, neighborhood promotion, and business attraction,” said Michael Monestime, the executive director of the Central Square Business Association.

Monestime also said improvement districts can enrich a neighborhood through initiatives for “cultural placemaking” and “support for the arts.” But, according to Monestime, the process to create an improvement district can take many months and even years.

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The City of Cambridge has studied the possibility of an improvement district in Central Square before.

In Dec. 2011, the Mayor’s Red Ribbon Commission, which focuses on Central Square’s social and economic development, recommended a Central Square improvement district. More recently, in Aug. 2017, a city-commissioned retail strategic plan also cited the benefits of such a district.

Councillor Alanna M. Mallon urged the city of Cambridge to begin the process of establishing an improvement district at the meeting. She proposed starting with the state's recommendation of a feasibility report.

“It’s definitely a thing that can unlock the potential in Central Square for the businesses there, but it’s become really clear that there’s this critical step between a recommendation and it actually happening, and that is the city really stepping forward to help fund a feasibility study,” Mallon said.

Submitted by Councillors Mallon and E. Denise Simmons, and Mayor Marc C. McGovern, the policy order would explore whether or not the conditions of Central Square are right for a business improvement district.

“It’s great to see that the city of Cambridge as a partner to its business districts is supportive,” Monestime said. “Again they just voted on a feasibility study, so there’s nothing set in stone.”

The formation of an improvement district in Central Square is still in its early stages, but the next steps would include focusing on a campaign and communication strategy, Monestime said. He said he hopes to hear from the residents, property owners, and businesses as the proposal for a business improvement district moves forward.

Mallon emphasized the importance of finding the right solutions for Cambridge. She said a study for Central Square would have to fit the neighborhood’s specific needs.

“This is the seat of our government. This is the entryway to Cambridge for a lot of people that are coming here. It’s a really important square and I think it deserves the care and attention of the entire city council,” Mallon said.

—Staff writer Patricia J. Liu can be reached at patricia.liu@thecrimson.com.

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