By Lise Elcock
If you haven’t ventured into Needham Center recently, you’re in for a treat.
Brick-paved traffic crossings, wrought iron street light fixtures and traffic lights, curved stone gateways to the common square, new benches and bike racks are now all part of the downtown scene.
With the road work and landscaping almost completed, the first phase of the downtown streetscape project is coming to an end, just as two additions to Needham Center’s restaurant scene will enhance downtown’s growing reputation as a destination for foodies.
On Chapel Street, owner Paul Turano is opening a second location of his successful Newton neighborhood restaurant COOK at the former Not Your Average Joe’s location. Turano’s new restaurant will seat 110 people with an open pizza exposed brick, wood-top tables and a concrete bar-top.
“I love the concept that we’re doing in Newton and I love this location. I feel like Needham’s still a little bit under served and I thought it just made sense,” Paul Turano recently told the Needham Times.
And after eight years of dedicated service to the food scene and overall economic vitality of Needham Center, Karen and Steve Waller will be saying goodbye to The Center Café. Plans are in the works for an Irish gastro pub, called the James. Operated by restaurateurs Stuart Henry and Cormac Dowling, the new owners are promising a family friendly atmosphere with a rich variety of local craft beers and wines.
“Needham downtown, with the beginning of its streetscape transformation, continues to attract new and exciting businesses,” said Devra Bailin, Needham’s Economic Development Director.
The just completed street scape work is the first of five phases designed to enhance downtown’s overall streetscape. The areas targeted in the plan include reconstruction of the railroad crossing on Great Plain Ave; Great Plain Avenue to Linden Street and Warren Street; Chapel Street and Highland Ave towards May Street; and Chestnut Street between Great Plain and School Street, possibly extended to include the Oak Street intersection. These phases have target project dates through July 2030 subject to funding availability.
A facelift to grass and pathways on the Town Common is also on the horizon. According to Ed Olsen, Parks and Forestry Superintendent for Needham, the Town Common project was originally slated for this past summer but took a back seat to the streetscape work knowing that work would likely cause some damage on the common.
The project is still in its design phase and the town would welcome input on the project from merchants and residents. It will ultimately be up to the town manager with the consult of the Board of Selectman, among others, to determine when the future common project will take place.
One very crucial part of the current work that still needs to be integrated: the coordinated response of the upgraded traffic lights. Needham Town Engineer Tony Del Gaizo said the town is hoping to receive MBTA approval to connect with their preemption technology by the end of September. This will allow the cameras and traffic control measures to determine the timing of the traffic lights instead of relying on the timing loop that is in place at this time.
In addition, two other efforts are working to ensure Needham’s downtown area remains viable in today’s changing economy.
A Needham Planning Board meeting was recently held to explore a long-term vision for Chestnut Street and the chamber’s Reimagine Needham initiative will meet again this fall to move forward on the key takeaways from the multiple brainstorming sessions held during this past year. The over-arching discussion trends in both groups includes the need for more work force housing, increased walkability, and unique retail and services not available on the internet.