By Lise Elcock
What would it take to make Needham Center one of the best small downtowns in the nation?
That’s the question a group of stakeholders began discussing last month during a workshop designed to start developing a vision and strategy for a downtown that’s culturally and economically relevant for generations.
The event was organized by the chamber’s Needham Economic Development Committee and led by CollectiveNext,a boutique consulting company with principles who live in Needham that’s dedicated to helping clients create meaningful and lasting change in their organizations.
CollectiveNext Senior Principal Dave Rutley and his team are donating their time and staff to the entire process, which is expected to stretch over a period of months and is designed to incorporate the views of everyone connected with Needham as the process continues.
At the Sept. 19 kick-off event, more than 40 representatives from local businesses, nonprofit and civic organizations, town government and residents representing all age groups met at the Broadmeadow Elementary School for a three-hour interactive workshop.
“In an era where so much shopping has migrated online or to big box stores, downtown Needham’s struggles aren’t unique,” said Chamber President Greg Reibman. “But what is unique are Needhamites’ entrepreneurial spirit and love for this town. We’re looking to harness that energy as we imagine what downtown Needham could become.”
The objectives of this first meeting were to better understand what today’s residents want from a town center; learn and explore best practices in creating town centers; and develop a vision that the entire town and surrounding communities understand and support.
“We saw the passion and creativity of Needham on full display with a wide variety of creative ideas that were put forth over the three hours we spent together,”
Ideas included weekly seasonal activities on the town common (a skating rink topped many lists), pop up shops, underground parking and/or tram service, bike racks, later hours for merchants and a film festival at Powers Hall. A wish list of businesses that people would like to see in the center included a bookstore, fish market, cheese shop, old time diner and a pub.
Participants were also asked to list challenges that they could foresee standing in the way of making these visions a reality. Parking and space limitations, money, resistance to change and strict regulations were common themes among the breakout groups.
The session ended with each group presenting its overall vision for a 2021 Needham town center with a recap of its biggest ideas and major obstacles.
“We saw the passion and creativity of Needham on full display with a wide variety of creative ideas that were put forth over the three hours we spent together,” said Rutley, a Needham father of three and CollectiveNext Senior Principal.
“Most importantly, however, we started to see 40 different people with different perspectives begin to align on a vision for what Needham Town Center can and should be in the future,”
CollectiveNext and the Chamber plan to hold more workshops with unique attendees and will then bring together stakeholders from all of the sessions for a much more intensive and lengthy summit at which time a specific strategy and supporting tactics will be designed to move toward the collectively defined vision.
Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham is the primary sponsor for the project. Needham Bank and Petrini Corporation are co-sponsors.
For more information about the Needham Town Center Re-Imagination project, or to participate in one of the upcoming workshop sessions, please contact Lise Elcock at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-244-1864.