Downtown Business Village: What survey respondents like, dislike, want to see, and more

by beth on October 25, 2017

Post image for Downtown Business Village: What survey respondents like, dislike, want to see, and more

Above: Results from EDC’s survey indicates some support for allowing mixed-use buildings in the business district on downtown Main St, though many still had questions (graph cropped and edited from EDC report)

On Monday night, the Economic Development Committee made the results of its survey public. The committee presented findings on what people want to see in the Downtown Business Village.

In looking at stats below, keep in mind that findings are based mostly on information from less than 6% of Southborough voters. (Still, given how hard it is to get people to respond to surveys, that’s not bad.)

98% of the 427 respondents were residents. 21% identified themselves as owning or working for a business in Southborough.

Respondents provided their views on questions ranging from interest in creating “small scale mixed-use zoning” to their “sense of community” for the area.

On their website, EDC summed up some of their “major take aways”:

  • Residents and businesses care deeply about Downtown. Strong sense of community.
  • Residents and business want improvements.
  • More amenities:
    • 90% want more restaurants. Publik house/pub mentioned repeatedly.
    • 67% want more retail shops.
    • Most are open to small-scale mixed use. Only 15% opposed
    • Aesthetics are important.
    • Downtown “feel” essential.
    • Historic buildings, signage and markers highly valued.
    • “Public spaces” and connectivity valued.

Here are some of the highlights I pulled out from the posted results. Click thumbnails to enlarge. (Note: I recommend waiting a minute until the page fully loads before clicking.)

type of businesses you would like to see more of rate value adds - open space/common areas, bike connectivity beautification you'd like to see strength of community sense

what you like about district don't like about district how often you shop/eat there services patronized

For a copy of EDC’s October 23rd Public Meeting presentation, click here. For a full view of the entire survey, including raw data and comments, click here.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Donna McDaniel October 25, 2017 at 10:12 PM

I’m concerned about conclusions drawn on little more than half the number who were able to register an opinion. (52% of 427 is about 222 people). True, but leaving us to wonder why others didn’t respond—-weren’t aware of survey—or were aware but didn’t care one way or another—suggesting not many people were giving it a lot of thought? Another thought…my first 22 years in town on Richards Rd made trips to Westborough or Ashland or Hopkinton or just up to Rte. 9 fast or faster for errands than going the extra length to Main St…(after the post office was moved…). (Not counting my older son’s trips to the then-new House of Pizza.)
I’m not necessarily arguing for or against considering what can be made of our downtown …but looking at it as business opportunities may need some additional thought.

I’m suggesting that “downtown” is just not a regular route for many of us.

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2 beth October 26, 2017 at 8:28 AM

I was concerned myself about the EDC’s bullet stating “Most are open to small-scale mixed use. Only 15% opposed” would lead people to mistakenly assume that close to 85% were in favor of mixed use. That is why I led with the graph, so readers could see the results and judge for themselves.

And I agree that we shouldn’t assume that 5+% of residents accurately represent the feelings of the whole community. That’s why I highlighted those figures near the top of the story.

But, I know that the EDC made a significant outreach effort to get as many responses as possible from the residential and business community. It’s just hard to get people to respond to something unless they are invested.

(We’re all on survey overload. We constantly get phone calls and emails asking for survey responses. Websites have popups asking readers to answer questions. Almost every store I go to, a clerk highlights the receipt with a website they want me to visit to complete a survey.)

And I’m not sure what else the committee can do to gauge community opinion. At least they solicited feedback rather than making assumptions based on their own opinions and anecdotal evidence.

I forgot to include in the post a reminder of what the data is for. They will be using it when they seek expert advice on revitalizing downtown. From there they hope to present a plan to Town Meeting voters. And frankly, the number of people who cast votes at those meetings is often lower than the number who responded to the survey!

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3 Julie Connelly October 26, 2017 at 8:56 AM

Thank you, Beth. It is difficult to get people to respond to surveys, but we took significant steps to get it out to as many people as possible. In addition to the meeting the EDC hosted on Monday to share the survey results, we will be having a follow up session in a few weeks (we are confirming dates now and will provide information when available). We strongly encourage anyone who is interested to attend and share their opinions. We had an interesting and productive discussion on Monday night which will be available for viewing on Southborough Access Media soon for those who were not able to attend. If anyone has questions or concerns, we encourage you to reach out to the EDC and to attend our public meetings – both the forums specifically scheduled for this Downtown initiative and our regularly scheduled public meetings.

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4 Donna McDaniel October 26, 2017 at 1:19 PM

NOT MY INTENTION TO SUGGEST THE COMMITTEE DIDN’T TRY HARD ENough… but to wonder with others if there is enough interest to proceed…especially as is..maybe consider other possibilities ….

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5 concerned_resident November 5, 2017 at 8:46 AM

Hi Beth, Julie and particularly Donna,

Donna, you’re a legend in town, and your unwavering commitment to all things good in SB is well documented (enough with the accolates already! LOL). Seriously though, this is such an important issue for SB. I mean, its so visible and of practical importance to everyone in town. Our downtown area has so much potential as Julie points out. Presently we do not have a town center we can all agree is the place to go, be seen and to see others (except, well, maybe the Transfer Stations fits that description). This has got to change and with Julie’s teams leadership i think its just a matter of raising public awareness even higher. Public Relations campaign is needed to paint the picture of what could be, so we can wake people up from simply accepting what is now. How do we generate some excitement to stir the passion for something more in the town center? i dont know but i am a willing foot soldier in the fight. “Lead, Follow or get out of the way”. I’m a good follower on this issue.
thanks for your service, each of you!

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6 Julie Connelly November 8, 2017 at 11:31 AM

Concerned Resident,

I too would love to see more public awareness and excitement for improvements to our Downtown which would provide a more “community” feel. We are planning our next public forum and hope that you and many others will participate. Stay tuned!

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7 David Parry November 14, 2017 at 12:19 PM

Donna McDaniel is correct in her statement that

” looking at it as (providing) business opportunities may need some additional thought.
I’m suggesting that “downtown” is just not a regular route for many of us.”

Yes indeed. This applies especially to residents who live south of Rte 9. With the relocation of the post office, there is simply little reason for those residents to come.

Local business opportunities might be as simple as small office spaces for local businesses. And I note the strong support for a legitimate pub, (as opposed to a noisy sports bar).

But as to providing a “reason” for visiting, what is missing is something like the Southborough Arms, which had a reputation, indeed renown, as THE best “watering hole” to stop at, between Worcester and Boston …. combining architectural character, history, a sense of place, and the perfect spot to meet friends in the evening.

There is an opportunity to treat the future, public, physical street renewal in “downtown” in a more creative design ….. and not just repeat the obvious, which would be an exact replica continuation of the mile long, new main Street (about to start in March). By this, I mean we should consider making a deliberate, visual distinction, when we enter “downtown” — such as by installing different materials for the new sidewalks (not the usual asphalt or concrete, but instead consider using colored paving bricks, for example. Or perhaps concrete stained red, as in Miami); and adding a few local street lamps and street furniture / benches.

Above all, consider adding a totally new sidewalk to Southborough Medical along Newton St — which, considered alone, already has vastly more “commercial” floor space than all of the other “downtown” buildings added together. Southborough Medical brings vastly more visitors to its location just a few hundred yards away, but it is physically isolated. Why not give consideration to modifying the zoning boundaries to include the Southborough Medical area, which today is zoned “industrial” as opposed to “Village Business”. Why is this? It is simply because it was once the single largest industrial use in all of Southborough — the factory for Deerfoot Farms products.

This plan for our downtown is a very worthwhile project, which has huge symbolic importance and potential. It needs long range vision. The survey shows that residents do not want a large scale commercial center, which should be on Rte 9. In our downtown, they want to keep the small intimate scale, but with revitalized uses and with existing gaps of vacant lots built upon with new uses. They want a visually attractive, interesting, active, ambiance. Pedestrian oriented. Enhancing the historic buildings which are already there. Expanding the mix of uses and perhaps the area in appropriate directions such as toward Southborough Medical.

A big “thank you” to our Economic Development Committee for undertaking this.

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8 concerned_resident November 14, 2017 at 1:40 PM

Hello David,

You are spot on with your assessment and ideas. We do have “… an opportunity to treat the … renewal of “downtown” in a more creative design ….. and not just a …. continuation of the mile long, new main Street” (paraphrased a bit).

I’d be curious to hear the results of an informal survey question of town folk, “Where is the heart of Southborough?” You’d likely get three answers, which tells us either Southborough is a squid (multiple hearts… get it?) or we dont have a heart at all. Note however that we also dont have nor can build a classic “down town” its not laid out like that… not enough room between the Gazebo through Newton St stretch of Main St. The most appropriate model would be a village design. But what potential in the area. I’d like to see a small live music venue (coffee house in day and pub by evening that features folk, jazz, singing groups). A place to meet, enjoy a relaxing pint, hear some entertainment etc. NOT a sports bar cuz the locale isnt right for that. I go to Rt 9 places to cheer on NE Pats.

Also, what is up with that corner lot on Main St and Newton (brownfield? ). We need a plan. Add a bit of public infrastructure $$$ to entice private enterprises, define the look and feel and unleash free enterprise to breath life into the area. Just think of the tax revenues! local jobs for teens, etc. If SB doesnt have a heart, does that mean it doesnt have no soul?

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