October 24, 2012BERLIN — The Berlin Main Street program was awarded $20,000 last week by the Citizens Bank Foundation under the first round of competitive grant-making in its "Growing Communities" initiative, designed to foster neighborhood revitalization and economic development activities across the state.
"Growing Communities" first-year investment totals $85,000 given to three projects — one in Berlin and two in Manchester — that will enhance neighborhoods, support small businesses, provide job training and increase access to nutritious foods.
"The three projects selected will stimulate economic development by encouraging patronage of local businesses, strengthening workforce development and ultimately creating jobs," said Citizens Bank N.H. president Joe Carelli in a prepared statement.
Working to develop recommendations from the "Moving Downtown Forward" report commissioned by the City of Berlin and the Berlin Main Street Program, this project aims to support small businesses in downtown Berlin, to generate retail traffic and to position "the City that Trees Built" as a destination. N. H. Grand's regional branding strategy designed under the aegis of the Northern Community Investment Corp. (NCIC) as well as the Berlin Main Street program will provide technical assistance, marketing and promotional support to help downtown businesses leverage the impact of events that attract visitors to the community, such as those held at Jericho Mountain State Park, Northern Forest Heritage Park, St. Kieran's Arts Center, and the Farmers' Market.
"This grant from Citizens will support the work of the Main Street Program by providing access to the marketing skills of the NH Grand initiative," explained Community Development Director Pam Laflamme. "It will help merchants work on ways to draw visitors to downtown while visitors are here for our big events that take people out of downtown such as RiverFire and the ATV Festival. We're focusing on a core neighborhood of the City — its downtown — where so much attention is now being focused through our 'Moving Downtown Forward' project.
"We hope that this project provides tools and guidance that is easily replicated by merchants even after the grant period is over," Laflamme concluded.
The grant will greatly help the downtown, explained Sylvia Poulin, who serves as the City's Energizer Bunny. Plans are ready to implement, starting with the City's entrance and ending at St. Anne's Church. She said that the goal is to entice many of the tourists and outdoor enthusiasts who now drive north through the City to stop and shop or eat before exiting. Attractive signs that are designed for compatibility, banners, flowers, seasonal decorations and streetscape improvements are integral parts of the plan, Poulin said. In February, Citizens Bank and WMUR-TV named Sylvia Poulin as that month's "Heart of Your City" for her outstanding commitment to the City of Berlin.
The "Moving Downtown Forward" report called Downtown Berlin "the community's front door: the "main lobby" to the Berlin community. That main lobby is currently under-developed and could look better. If allowed to remain as is, it will continue to decline and attract low-value and high-needs uses. It will not provide its current tax and business-base with the flow of customers and support needed to survive and thrive."
The City Council's decision to invest $100,000 in downtown undoubtedly was a key factor in Citizens' choosing this project for funding. "The City made a forward-looking commitment, Poulin said.
In addition to grant investments, Citizens Bank colleagues will provide volunteer support to the projects.