In recovery effort, focus to be placed on front beach and Kenberma district
A $30,000 Rapid Recovery Plan for Hull, aimed at helping local businesses recover from economic losses related to the pandemic, has been presented to the Select Board, with members of the Economic Development Committee and the Planning Board in attendance. After a lengthy presentation and discussion, the Select Board agreed to adopt the plan.
The state Local Rapid Recovery Planning Program grant awarded to Hull involves a “rapid” process in which to identify actions to help communities recover economic losses from the pandemic, based in part on input from some local businesses.
Consultant Susan Silberberg and other CivicMoxie staff worked with town officials throughout the process to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on Hull’s commercial districts and businesses, with a focus on the front beach area and Kenberma.
“This is an innovative program devised by the Department of Housing and Community Development a year ago in recognition of the number of commercial districts across the state that were negatively impacted [by the pandemic],” Silberberg told the Select Board. “The goal is to help communities develop [short- and long-term] project-based recovery plans coming out of COVID.”
Recommendations include: adding a funded position to promote tourism, which Silberberg said “would pay for itself many times over”; strategies for off-season marketing; how to make available more goods and services for residents in the off-season; addressing parking and traffic congestion (including potential shuttle service and pedi-cabs); pop-ups and kiosks along the beachfront on town-owned land; and finding ways to encourage beachgoers to frequent local businesses.
“Some business owners would like to make the area more vibrant, especially during the off-tourist season, including hosting more cultural events,” Silberberg said.
Hull is one of 125 communities benefitting from the program. Ongoing cooperation and an open line of communication between the town and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation are seen as key to the plan’s success. The DCR oversees the Nantasket Reservation and owns about 35 percent of the beach area.
Town officials and local legislators are continuing their efforts to build a more collaborative relationship between Hull and the DCR. Silberberg noted that the town has made great efforts “to pull DCR to the table.”
The 63-page recovery plan notes that the Nantasket Beach area, which is the gateway to Hull, “caters more to summer visitors and beachgoers, while the Kenberma area to the north focuses more on neighborhood resident services and needs.”
Because it has the distinct character of a summer seaside community, Hull, the report states, grapples with several issues, including the location of parking, the tradition of many visitors bringing their own food and drink and not frequenting local businesses, “and the sheer length of the district that discourages pedestrian activity, despite recent town improvements of new sidewalks and street furniture at new development areas.”
Approximately 200,000 visitors frequent Hull’s beaches each summer, generating a potential market for businesses and causing impacts that must be managed by the town.
While businesses seek more customers, the lack of public transportation and a “concerted campaign” to attract visitors from Boston and beyond, including by ferry, was cited as a challenge to efforts to increase the capacity of the district, “which is already taxed in terms of parking supply and congestion during peak summer weekends.”
Part of the report deals with the challenge of reconciling town policies and goals with the DCR. “The town is really hampered in what it can do without DCR cooperation,” Silberberg said.
In fact, the report cites DCR’s lack of participation in planning as an “ongoing barrier to improving the overall physical environment and connectedness of the district to enhance the public realm and visitor experience, support local businesses, and grow economic development,” implementation, or communication with the town.
Select Board Chair Jennifer Constable said that after recent meetings with DCR representatives the department committed a staff member to act as liaison with the Hull community “to begin implementing the now-dusty master plan to implement a greenway. We need to continue to lean on the DCR and to be loud [in what we say] and for the community to speak up as well.”
Town Manager Philip Lemnios said he does not believe that this area “can really pop without the DCR operating in a fundamentally different manner.”
The lack of adequate signage, parking, use of DCR open space, and inactive street frontage are all considered to be other challenges faced by the town.
“The vast DCR parking and open areas, and pavilions could provide opportunities for outdoor programming, pop-up retail, and food venues to enhance the public realm, which would align with Hull’s economic goals and help support DCR’s mission,” the study indicated.
Strategies to expand the Hull season from summer to year-round could support businesses and provide local activities for residents to enjoy throughout the year are another suggestion included in the report.
The report also points out potential areas that would benefit from further attention in the commercial district, including sidewalk, crosswalk, and signage improvements, and adding street trees and benches or other seating in some areas.
Next steps include working with the Department of Housing and Community Development “to identify potential funding sources for the community’s top two priorities,” Constable said. “This is a real opportunity.”
The Economic Development Committee, of which Constable is a member, recommended that the focus be on a coordinated branding and marketing strategy and addressing parking and transportation issues.
The Rapid Recovery Plan is posted on the town website.
SIDEBAR: Recovery plan contains cornucopia of options for boosting businesses
A recently completed Rapid Recovery Plan for Hull offers several “big picture takeaways” geared toward helping local businesses recover from the impacts of the coronavirus. They include:
* treating the Nantasket Beach and Kenberma areas as two distinct districts;
* focusing on public realm, space activation, and art to draw beachgoers to shops and restaurants and encouraging more pedestrian activity;
* continuing to collaborate with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation;
* developing resources and a sustainable framework to fund programming and marketing;
* identifying opportunities to develop for visitors to the districts “stories,” or narratives, related to Hull’s history, the beach, and the natural environment, among other assets;
* addressing transportation and parking challenges;
* drafting a coordinated strategy for events, art, and public space activation;
* creating a “small footprint” approach to retail; and
* maintaining the good communication and collaboration between the town and local businesses that were established during the pandemic.
A key recommendation is to create a “Hull Artway,” a public space and art plan that would connect the district and multiple destinations to draw visitors to the commercial area.
Another suggestion is to make outdoor dining and retail permanent on public property and in privately owned spaces and to improve/streamline the permitting process.
Creating and executing a coordinated branding and marketing strategy for the businesses in the Nantasket Beach and Kenberma commercial areas to attract more customers/visitors is also encouraged.
Implementing a coordinated parking and transportation-options strategy to increase the visitor capacity of the commercial district and enhance the experience of residents and visitors alike is also among the recommendations.
Another suggestion is for the town to host pilot events and pop-up opportunities to broaden the visitor base during the peak season and to expand the appeal of the district during the in-between and off-season times.
Other RRP recommendations include using public art to “weave together disparate areas of the district”; coordinating public events and activities to draw beachgoers deeper into the district; and forming a Business Improvement District, or BID, for the Nantasket Avenue commercial area to support marketing, programming, and transportation initiatives – an effort that the town has already begun. Various funding sources are available.
A BID is a special assessment district in which property owners vote to initiate, manage, and finance supplemental services or enhancements above and beyond those already provided by their local government.
The goal of a BID is to improve a specific commercial area by attracting shoppers, diners, customers, and other businesses to the area.
“There’s no reason why Hull can’t be a year-round destination to help businesses, and it would be lovely for residents,” CivicMoxie Consultant Susan Silberberg told the Select Board during her recent presentation of the final plan.
Board member Donna Pursel suggested extending the area targeted for improvements to Hull Gut. “Why not have pop-ups and a farmers’ market there?” she asked. “The town doesn’t end at Kenberma.”