After several applications, a few interviews, and even a personal visit to Bellingham Square by the Boston region’s Federal Reserve chief, Chelsea has been included in a dynamic pilot program that will deliver $225,000 in grant money over the next three years to help revitalize the heart of the city.
Last August, Chelsea applied for the Working Cities Challenge grant, which looked for small and medium sized cities that had hit hard times and were on the upswing. The Challenge came out of a 2009 study by the Boston Federal Reserve Bank that looked at cities like Chelsea all over the country and found common factors that led to their resurgence. Following that study, a group of partners that included the Fed, the state, 15 of the state’s largest employers and other organizations banded together to create the challenge.
Twenty municipalities applied, and by October, Chelsea was still in the running – hosting Regional Fed Chair Eric Rosengren for a visit to City Hall and Bellingham Square.
On Wednesday of this week, the City had won.
Chelsea joins Lawrence ($700,000), Fitchburg ($400,000), Holyoke ($250,000), Somerville ($100,000) and Salem ($100,000) in the pilot program.
Chelsea officials found out they won at a ceremony Wednesday morning at the Boston Federal Reserve Bank – a ceremony that was on the radar screen of outgoing Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, who provided a videotaped message that was played. Afterward, Fed officials told the Record they are excited about the program and excited about Chelsea being in it.
“After studying these revitalized cities, we found the key ingredient always was collaboration and leadership,” said Prabal Chakrabarti, vice president of community outreach at the Boston Fed. “That’s what they were looking for in these six cities. We hope this pilot program can be expanded. We hope this is tried around the country. We know other Fed banks are looking at this program. Outgoing chair Ben Bernanke said he thought it was a great program. Being in the room on Wednesday, to hear the applause, cheers and energy from the cities that won – including Chelsea – was really inspiring. An expert jury selected these cities, not the Fed. Chelsea has a great team. In Chelsea, the quality of leadership and organizations is very strong…You start to see the head of the Chamber of Commerce, the school superintendent, the police chief and the director of the housing authority coming together to solve problems.”
Rosengren said that the work is just now ready to begin.
“The variety of the people in the room represents the essence of the Working Cities Challenge that we gather today to celebrate – working with a diverse set of partners to achieve a common goal,” said Eric Rosengren, head of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank. “The work really begins today. I congratulate all of the Working Cities for the progress they have made to date and wish them much success with their ambitious proposals.”
In Chelsea, City Manager Jay Ash said the work will include honing in on the Shurtleff-Bellingham area in a wholly collaborative effort that includes all City resources (including police, public health, and schools) and The Neighborhood Developers, the Chamber of Commerce and Roca.
The plan seeks to bring systematic change to the greater Bellingham neighborhood by performing intensive outreach to get community residents engaged in programming, and then coordinate that outreach among more than 25 community entities that are partnering in the initiative.
Additionally, a new code enforcement team would seek to produce physical and quality of life benefits to the streets that are roughly bordered by the waterfront, Broadway and the railroad tracks.