March 19, 2018

Business improvement district capitalizing on Hudson's momentum

PHOTO/NATHAN FISKE
Members of the Hudson Business Improvement District steering committee include (from left) Chuck Randall, who owns the building Armsby Abbey's sister restaurant will occupy; Mae Zagami, owner of Creative Designs in Kitchens; Arthur Redding, owner of Hudson Appliance; and restauranteur Karim El-Gamal of Rail Trail Flatbread, New City Microcreamery and Less Than Greater Than.
The Hudson business improvement district, shaded in red, covers 105 properties along Main Street and South Street, and from Washington Street and the rotary to just past Manning and Broad streets.

In just a few years, downtown Hudson has added a popular brewery, a buzzed-about pizzeria and bar, a swanky speakeasy-style bar, and trendy gift and clothing store.

Now, business leaders are taking advantage of that progress by forming the first business improvement district in Central Massachusetts using small tax surcharges on property owners to pay for everything from cultural events to parking improvements to marketing.

"There's a lot of energy around here right now, and the goal is to keep the momentum going," said Richard Braga, a former Hudson police chief who was tapped to be the district administrator.

The business improvement district will get its first revenue this month, and expects annual payments in the area of $122,000. First up is a sidewalk arts fair scheduled for May 5.

Aesthetic improvements are slated in the short term to make it visible to property owners, residents and visitors how the investment is being used. A committee is looking into new decorative light poles and flower boxes, while other committees are studying potential marketing initiatives or parking improvements such as additional spaces or better signage to help visitors find spots.

"We have a few things where, as soon as the weather breaks, we're on it," said Arthur Redding, the owner of Hudson Appliance on Main Street for 47 years and the president of the district's board of directors. "We're looking at this to be a home run for the town of Hudson."

From ghost town to bustling downtown

Downtown Hudson having a business improvement district would have been unheard of not too long ago.

Photo | Kelsey Haley Media
The Haberdash store, an offshoot of Worcester's Crompton Collective, opened on Main Street in Hudson last year.

Coming out of the Great Recession, Redding and a group of other business owners formed the Hudson Business Association in an attempt to turn the neighborhood around. They had a lot of ground to make up. At the time, there were about 30 empty storefronts, Redding said.

"I remember for many years going home at 6 o'clock at night; and I'd head up Main Street, and it looks like a ghost town," he said.

Now, Redding said, the neighborhood is busier in the evening during the day. And he said he can't count any empty storefronts, other than a few spaces being renovated for future tenants.

A few eateries helped lead the way for downtown Hudson's popularity today. Restaurateur Karim El-Gamal opened Rail Trail Flatbread Co., a pizzeria and bar, in 2012 and then opened New City Microcreamery, a cafe and ice cream parlor, across the street three years later. Located through an unmarked door in the back corner – if the secret wasn't out already – is a speakeasy-style bar, Less Than Greater Than.

The Crompton Collective, a Worcester marketplace, opened The Haberdash, a gift and clothing store, last year. The owners of another well-known Worcester destination, the restaurant and bar Armsby Abbey, announced last month they'll open a Mexican-style restaurant on Main Street called Conico.

Medusa Brewing Co., which opened in 2015, is planning a roughly $5-million production facility next to its existing taproom, for which it won Historic District Commission approval last month.

82% buy-in

Businesses in the neighborhood have not wanted to waste the opportunity. Now that property owners don't have to worry about filling vacant storefronts, they've turned to a tax-bill surcharge to pay for improvements they hope will only make downtown more of a destination.

"This seemed like the logical step," said Mae Zagami, the owner of Hudson-based Creative Designs in Kitchens.

First, enough businesses had to approve the plan. Owners of at least 60 percent of the 105 properties in the neighborhood had to come on board, and 71 percent did. At least 51 percent of the the total assessed value of property had to be owned by those in support, and Hudson hit 82 percent, said Zagami, the clerk of the business improvement district board.

The Hudson Board of Selectmen signed off last fall, with town officials getting behind the business effort.

"It's fantastic," Hudson Executive Assistant Thomas Moses, the top municipal official, said of strides being made downtown. "It's exciting all the time."

A model for success

The district covers a half-mile stretch of Route 62 through downtown, from about where Main and High streets intersect toward just past the rotary where Lincoln and Central streets meet. Much of South Street, which runs parallel to Main Street, are covered, as are some parcels on streets that run off of Main Street.

Tax surcharges are relatively small: 0.035 percent on business properties and 0.02 percent on residential properties with four or more units. Smaller residential sites aren't charged. Town Hall, which is in the district, isn't being charged, but the town is working on a memorandum of understanding to provide in-kind services to roughly match what the town would have paid.

Hudson is the first Central Massachusetts community to start a business improvement district and one of few in the state, along with others like Amherst, Hyannis, Northampton, Springfield, Taunton, Boston's Downtown Crossing and Westfield. Braga said he's already gotten questions from people in other communities looking to do what Hudson is starting.

"I've talked to, just in my regular travels, people outside the community," he said. "They say, 'Oh, I love that downtown.' It's a recognized hotspot at the moment, and it's really important to us that we keep that going."

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