Thomas A. Mann Jr. is the executive director of the Pawtucket Foundation, which was founded in 2001 “to apply civic entrepreneurship to the economic transformation of the Pawtucket/Central Falls community,” among other things.
Under his leadership, the foundation created a strategic plan designed to run from 2012 to 2014, one that took five months to complete and incorporated extensive online survey results and direction from the organization’s board.
PBN: You have the annual foundation awards celebration coming up on April 10. What does the event do for the foundation? For Pawtucket?
MANN: Our Annual Awards Celebration is an important touch point with the community. We use an energetic, up-beat program to celebrate the accomplishments of individuals who are contributing to the economic and cultural revitalization of the city. We put a lot of effort into creating a fun atmosphere, elegant décor and a high-tech program that showcases the forward progress of the city. The event seems to grow every year, and that’s a good thing, because it’s also an important fundraiser for us.
We hold the event at the Pawtucket Armory and really transform the space. This year we are pleased to honor John J. Partridge, Vincent Ceglie and Nancy Whit for their individual and business accomplishments.
PBN: The foundation created its first three-year plan last year and identified four goals – roughly speaking, they were to use a “Main Street” approach to downtown and riverfront development; help with the planning process for development in four specific city districts; work to improve transportation, infrastructure, public space and specific public property; and become a more effective organization. Which of these four are you farthest along with, three months into the first year of the plan? Any red flags at this point?
MANN: We’ve made significant progress with our Main Street approach. We just recently launched experiencepawtucket.org, a website that showcases Pawtucket and the downtown as a great place to live, work and visit. We are wrapping up the design phase of a $50,000 Main Street improvement project, and we will be installing new street trees, bike racks, planter boxes and fresh street banners along Main Street by this summer. We’ve organized business owners to work together, and we have an intern from Brown University conducting a feasibility analysis and pro forma for a potential downtown improvement district.
We’ve also partnered with the cities of Pawtucket and Central Falls to implement a riverfront real estate development plan. We’ve raised private funds for consulting fees for this effort, and Statewide Planning just awarded the two cities an additional $100,000 for riverfront planning.
The most recently completed Pawtucket Downtown Design Plan has won numerous awards. The plan programs $18 million in key projects, and the city already has folded these requirements into the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan. The biggest red flag is finding the dollars to fund public infrastructure projects. The city (and also the state) really needs help.
PBN: Is there any one of the four goals that you see has the potential to have the greatest long-term effect on Pawtucket?
MANN: Working to improve infrastructure, public and private property will have the biggest impact. Today, there is $125 million in transportation-related projects in progress or programmed through 2014 in downtown Pawtucket. We are working hard to promote the redevelopment of under-utilized properties, and the impact will be measured in sorely-needed new tax revenue for the city, new jobs and hopefully new housing.
We’ve advocated to Mayor Donald R. Grebien to adopt a Downtown Pawtucket Growth Center policy that is in line with the state’s land use plan and the governor’s Main Street Initiative. Our work, coupled with the hopeful passage of a new historic preservation tax credit and continued infrastructure development will help catalyze new development in a strategic area that has the capacity to grow and positively impact the region.
PBN: Have the new goals pushed the foundation into new areas of advocacy, where perhaps you have to build relationships and earn trust?
MANN: I think our core areas of interest remain focused, and we have a tremendous relationship with the city’s administration, state government and area business leaders. Clarifying our goals and establishing performance metrics in our strategic plan have enabled us to develop the resources we need to accomplish our mission. We’ve found partners far more willing to fund our efforts since we have a plan and can demonstrate success.
Over the last few years, we’ve also developed fruitful partnerships with local universities, and we’ve been pleased to offer Pawtucket as a learning laboratory to students from Johnson and Wales University, RISD, Brown University and Bryant University. We are planning to mentor two interns over the summer.
PBN: When do you start the planning process for the next three-year plan? And have you given any thought about what the next set of goals might encompass?
MANN: We typically conduct a board retreat every two years for the purposes of keeping our work plan on target. I expect to revisit our strategic plan on an annual basis. One of our core values is excellence, so that means we always have to focus on continuous improvement, investing in our human capital and honing our approach to accomplish our mission.
I think we are already starting to understand that we need to be better at marketing development opportunities in Pawtucket. I can envision allocating more resources for marketing and participating in regional and national conventions and conferences in the future.