The Impact of TAPs on Communities
As co-chair of ULI Boston’s Real Estate Advisory Committee over the past nine years, I have been privileged to chair or participate in a variety of Technical Assistance Panels (TAPs).
As many ULI members know, TAPs are a key component of the ULI Advisory Services program. Panelists for TAPs typically work one day sessions and are selected from the District Council’s membership to address land use challenges that require a combination of local knowledge and national perspective.
Although many of the issues TAPs are asked to address are common to many communities, there are usually one or more challenges unique to the particular city or town. I am always impressed by the insights and recommendations that each TAP is able to develop.
Several panelist recommendations from three TAPs I was involved in – Salem, Haverhill, and Marlborough – were implemented, producing measurable results.
In Salem, many in the community were convinced that there was a shortage of parking in the downtown business district and had earmarked a parcel of city-owned land for a new parking garage. The TAP discovered that in fact there was more than adequate parking downtown, but many people did not know how to access it. The TAP’s recommendations were two-fold: improve parking signage and encourage new residential development for the city-owned parcel.
In Marlborough, the city was concerned that their Main Street corridor was not attracting and supporting or retaining local retail and restaurants. Here, too, residents complained about parking. The TAP observed that there were two underutilized, free, city-owned parking garages behind the Main St. businesses; that Main St. was poorly lit, and the dark and uninviting street deterred visitors at night; and the current street pattern diverted a large amount of traffic away from Main St. Several traffic changes were recommended along with new lighting and streetscape, improved signage, and access to the garages. These recommendations have been implemented and have created noticeable improvement.
Haverhill’s challenge focused on how to extend new development and revitalization further down their Merrimack St. corridor, which abutted the Merrimack River. The buildings along Merrimack St. were isolated from the river by a Corps of Engineers floodwall. One end of the street was flourishing with new development and renovation while further down the street languished. The TAP proposed several innovative ideas to establish more connections to the river, increase the value and attractiveness of the abutting buildings and thus stimulate redevelopment. A number of these ideas have been executed and have resulted in renewed interest and new development.
Although the TAP’s are not always able to solve all of a particular community’s problems and challenges, each panel’s ideas and recommendations usually are a catalyst for new thinking and discovery of resources and assets the community was unaware of.
Seeing the changes and improvements that many communities have been able to achieve as a result of ULI Boston TAP’s has been a personally enriching experience. I encourage all ULI members to become more familiar with TAP’s and participate in this professionally rewarding experience.