(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
The area around Ashmont Station and up Dorchester Avenue has come a long way, thanks in in part to the St. Mark’s Area Main Street. Now with a new executive director in place and 15 years of work in the community behind it, the business development group looks to update its vision for the commercial district.
The St. Mark’s Area Main Street, part of the Boston Main Street program, is a non-profit business development organization with the goal of bringing together local businesses, residents, and neighborhood organizations to invigorate and revitalize the business district in the Ashmont Station/Dorchester Avenue area.
On Saturday members of the organization’s board and residents came together to discuss what in the neighborhood is working and what the future holds for the group.
From a better mix of businesses to filling vacant storefronts, residents had plenty on their minds as they met over pastries at St. Mark’s Parish.
“As an organization we’ve spent most of our energy on a series of big developments like Ashmont Station,” explained Meaghan Overton, the organization’s executive director. “Now with those done we need to see what’s next and this is an excellent opportunity to involve the community and get people excited.”
Close to 50 residents and business owners attended the event, with many saying the organization is on a solid footing, but that it needs to begin to branch out.
“I think a good goal for us is to have a stronger presence throughout the district,” said Tim Deihl, president of the group’s board. “We’ve done a lot of good in Peabody Square, but we need to expand up Dorchester Avenue and reach out to those businesses.”
Bringing more businesses to the area was at the top of the list for many, but some said bringing in the right kind of business is just as important.
“I think we need to work on the business mix and make sure the neighborhood is pedestrian friendly,” said Christa Lee-Chuvala, a member of the group’s board.
From a dry cleaner to a hardware store, Lee-Chuvala had plenty of ideas about what she’d like to see in the community.
“There’s been a big focus on the southern part of the neighborhood and it’s really important to get the whole neighborhood involved and really get a mix of businesses that can serve everyone,” Lee-Chuvala added.
Others saw publicity as a problem for the neighborhood.
“I think Dorchester has a bad reputation and this area and the neighborhood as a whole doesn’t deserve that,” explained Mary Mello, a long-time resident. “We need more positive publicity for the area.”
For newcomers to the community many said what they heard at Saturday’s event was not only encouraging, but evidence of the vibrancy that drew them to the neighborhood in the first place.
“We bought here because we think there is a future here,” said Ban Dinh, who along with his son recently purchased the long vacant building at 1 Peabody Square. “We think this neighborhood could look like Downtown Boston and be just as nice.”
Like Dinh, Kim Fox and Ken Green, a married couple that recently relocated to the neighborhood, said they wanted to be part of the energy that surrounds the area and its business district.
“It’s what I like in a city,” said Green. “There’s a lot going on and it’s convenient. It’s also great that there are local businesses and not just condos and big box stores.”
With calls for a better business mix, more amenities, and improvements like more green space and way finding signs, the group’s board has plenty of work ahead of it.
Over the coming months the board and Overton will work to condense what was heard at Saturday’s gathering to develop a three to five year plan for the organization. The plan is expected to be unveiled in late-January.
“What we need to do no is distill those ideas and generate a plan for moving forward,” said Overton. “One thing that really came out of the whole process is that people are really excited and want to have a voice in what happens next, which is always encouraging.”