Results of the survey, Smith explained, will give town officials the opportunity to better understand the kinds of issues faced by downtown businesses. In an earlier interview with the Athol Daily News, Smith said, “Besides just talking about COVID, they want to learn about what folks feel about the downtown commercial district they’re located in, like the condition of the sidewalks, the conditions of the buildings, access and safety for employees and customers, things like that.” Once information has been gleaned from the survey, said Smith, “We can then try to make changes, whether it’s zoning changes or they need more programs. We do have some assistance programs for people right now for COVID and we’re still waiting for people to make full use of those programs — the funds that are still available.”
The survey asked business owners and operators to respond to a variety of questions, many related to the economic and operational impact of the pandemic. “This is to discuss the Local Rapid Recovery Plan Grant, also known as LLRP,” said Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith, “One of the things that will be presented will be the result of the survey that was recently done — the downtown business survey. We ended up with 14 responses. It would have been nice if we’d had more, but that’s what we had.”
Smith explained the survey also gave owner-operators a chance to express their opinions regarding the town’s traditional retail core. ATHOL — Representatives from the consulting firm Stantec Professional Services will lead a discussion on potential strategies for helping downtown Athol businesses recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Members of the public are urged to attend this virtual meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 11.
Smith explained that Athol is one of 125 Bay State communities awarded grant monies under the LRRP, which is overseen of the state Department of Housing and Community Development. In all, the program distributed a total of $9.5 million statewide, with Athol’s share of the grant money totaling $60,000. “I’m urging people to come learn about the recently collected baseline data,” he said. “We really want them to help answer questions like, ‘What are the impacts of COVID-19 on the businesses, how can we do to the physical environment to meet the needs of both businesses and customers?’ Holtorf is Chair of Athol’s Downtown Vitality Committee.
“Mary Holtorf and myself had the consultant team from Stantec out here on a site walk last month,” Smith continued. “It’s my understanding they also had some other folks out here kind of doing an inventory of existing conditions of things like storefronts, streetscape and things like that. So, I imagine that will also be part of the presentation.” Part of the purposed of Tuesday’s meeting is to augment the material provided from survey responses.
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