"There is a real need to focus on recruitment. We have a lot to offer as an affordable and accessible community with significant historic and cultural assets, but we need to get our message out there."
By Rebecca Keister PBN Staff Writer
Aaron Hertzberg in January was named the new executive director of The Pawtucket Foundation in January after leading the organization in an interim capacity since his former boss Thomas Mann Jr. left in October to run the facilities department at Memorial Hospital.
Hertzberg was the foundation’s program director under Mann and worked closely with him for four years on projects including the organization’s first strategic plan.
Hertzberg now will be focused on following up on the October 2012 released marketability analysis and working with the city of Pawtucket to enhance economic partnership opportunities.
PBN: Congratulations on your appointment. What made you want to officially step into this role after serving as interim director for the past few months?
HERTZBERG: Over the last four years, The Pawtucket Foundation has worked to create a strategic plan and vision for the community and we are now working with the city and our partners to capitalize on the potential that exists in Pawtucket. Many important projects outlined in the plan are in motion and I wanted to see things through to implementation. The long discussed Pawtucket/Central Falls commuter rail stop is in preliminary engineering, properties in the riverfront corridor are prepared for development and the city is outlining ways to make needed infrastructure investments that will complement the new I-95 and Conant Street bridges. I am hopeful that we will see real progress in the years to come.
PBN: The real estate marketability analysis the foundation released last fall reported that Pawtucket would be a great area for retail investment. What is the next step in exploring such opportunities?
HERTZBERG: The market analysis was very encouraging. The report identified a retail sales gap between what is being spent and purchased locally, showing existing demand for further retail investment. That data will be an important part of the business recruitment strategy we are working to build with the city. The report also noted that if we can make key investments along our riverfront we can expect significant increases in both commercial and residential absorption. We are now working to identify priorities, timelines and funding strategies to complete these projects. The dual focus on commercial and residential investment is required because increased residential density will help to support retail investment.
PBN: Are there any further streetscape improvements planned for the city?
HERTZBERG: Streetscape improvements are an important way to support existing businesses and encourage revitalization. Through the Riverfront Corridor Initiative we are developing a consistent approach for improving access to downtown, including signage and landscaping. We are exploring a partnership with stakeholders in Pawtucket’s Armory/Arts district to incorporate those concepts into upcoming streetscape improvement plans. Residents and businesses in the district are interested in putting up neighborhood branded banners and increasing street trees and landscaping amenities. We will also continue to work with the city to identify strategies to completely one-way to two-way traffic conversions identified in the previously completed Downtown Design Plan. Those plans include increasing pedestrian and bicycle amenities and improving parking access throughout downtown.
PBN: One announced 2013 project is looking at culinary initiatives. Does that mean we can hope for more downtown dining options that could attract more diners to Pawtucket?
HERTZBERG: Pawtucket has a number of existing natural food and culinary assets. With a wildly successful winter farmers market and entities like Farm Fresh Rhode Island, New Urban Farmers and the Garden Grille, Pawtucket is already the center of Rhode Island’s natural food movement. Other organizations and businesses have seen that and are beginning to cluster here. Our next step is to pull together many of our local food and culinary experts to engage in the process. We will work to identify opportunities to further support these businesses and organizations and explore new partnerships to help attract additional investment. The city is taking a real leadership role in the project and I think we could see a number of desired outcomes.
PBN: Another foundation 2013 project is to work with the city to review economic development partnerships and how to best utilize available resources. Where do you see the greatest need is to put these resources?
HERTZBERG: There is a real need to focus on recruitment. We have a lot to offer as an affordable and accessible community with significant historic and cultural assets, but we need to get our message out there. We need to be networked throughout the region and tell our story. Over the last 10 years Pawtucket has been very successful at attracting developers and artists and recently brought in a health monitoring company from New York. We want to build on that momentum and explore other industry sectors. The city and private sector need to coordinate efforts and ensure we are maximizing our available resources. We are evaluating those resources and trying to develop the best strategy for moving forward.