By The Board of Directors
Recent negative campaign rhetoric has placed the Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) board and our executive director in the middle of debate around Town Council politics, municipal and private development, and other less germane issues. The Amherst BID would like to set the record straight about its function and positions.
Who we are. The Amherst BID is a made up of downtown businesses and property owners organized to provide downtown Amherst with supplementary services such as cleaning streets, beautification like flowers, streetscape enhancements, and marketing and advocating for the area and its businesses. The Amherst BID is funded through a tax assessment on commercial property owners with additional financial support through memoranda of understanding with institutional partners – UMass Amherst and Amherst College and the Town of Amherst. With our staff of two fulltime and one part-time worker, we advocate for over 200 small businesses in Amherst’s downtown.
Our goal is a strong, commercially viable downtown. A strong downtown benefits the entire community. We want to create a place where people want to visit, shop, eat, congregate, and enjoy a wide range of cultural offerings. We are very proud of our partnership with our community. The Amherst BID works with and collaborates with our public schools, the Town of Amherst, Amherst Recreation, our cultural institutions, the colleges and the university and more. The BID has been a lead donor to the John P. Musante Health Center and provides fiscal support to dozens of Amherst nonprofits, benefitting all members of our community.
We have worked overtime for our small businesses during the pandemic. In the last 18+ months, the Amherst BID, alongside the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, has secured over $500,000 in private donations and state funds that have gone directly to Amherst businesses. Nearly $100,000 of that money raised supported families in need as we partnered with Family Outreach of Amherst and the Amherst Survival Center through our Dinner Delights Program. We have written scores of successful grants for small businesses for state, federal and other small business programs. Through our lobbying and advocacy we have worked with downtown businesses to open popular new and expanded outdoor dining areas, which provided a needed economic infusion during the pandemic.
We are working to bring small and diverse businesses to our downtown. The BID actively recruits new and diverse businesses to Amherst. Our team works hand-in-hand with small business owners, many new to business or those with English as a second language, to navigate town permitting processes and steer them to successful openings. A most recent example is the successful launch of Mexicalito and the soon to open Hazel’s Kitchen – and there are more in the works.
Our work is making a difference. The BID’s efforts have been lauded by state government officials who have celebrated its initiative and innovation including being the only community cited in testimony before the U.S. Congress by Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, Mike Kennealy who cited the Amherst BID’s economic development work during the pandemic as a beacon of success in Massachusetts.
If you have been to the Block Party, a concert on the Common or at Sweetser Park, or WinterFest, or if you will enjoy the Halloween parade or lighting of the Merry Maple, the BID organized, funded or contributed to each of these events.
We are proud of our indefatigable executive director, Gabrielle Gould, who has done the hard work of helping businesses survive during the pandemic, recruiting new businesses to join our downtown, and advocating for the things that need to happen to ensure our downtown stays vibrant well into the future. She’s smart, savvy, and knows what she’s doing. The BID Board unanimously supports her and the work she and her team are doing.
Making Amherst a cultural destination is crucial to our long-range economic viability as a small town. That’s why we support these initiatives:
- Jones Library Renovation and Expansion: The Amherst BID recognizes that the Jones Library is an economic driver for Amherst and supports its renovation and expansion to meet the needs of the community. It is important to note that while we support the Jones Library question on the ballot, we do not endorse any candidates running for office. Our staff, board members and business owners, as private citizens, do have the right to express their own opinions.
- More and Better Parking: The BID has been public about Amherst’s need for more parking and would like to find a way to see that built without taxpayer dollars.
- More Cultural Opportunities to Downtown: [Through the non-profit Downtown Amherst Foundation,] we are currently attempting to bring several cultural venues to Amherst – The Drake (at the former location of the High Horse) and a Performance Shell on the Common – to build a more inclusive and sustainable destination for residents and visitors alike. Creating free and low-cost places for members of the community and other artists to perform is vital to becoming a more culturally inclusive community. We believe that free arts and cultural offerings that are accessible for all is an extremely important part of community building as well as economic sustainability.
Our mission is clear: A strong, economically viable downtown anchored in culture and the arts. Ms. Gould has embraced this mission and carried this message to all levels of government and the public. We look forward to continuing this dialogue in and to working closely with the incoming Town Council. It is in the best interests of our community that this discourse be civil and about the issues.