By Johanna Seltz, Town Correspondent
The town has received $1.3 million in state money for major improvements in Dedham Square.
“We are just over the moon; it’s a wonderful thing for the town of Dedham,” said Karen O’Connell, the town’s director of economic development. “It’s really an investment in the future of our small business base here in Dedham Square.”
The improvement work includes wider sidewalks and new street lights -- energy-efficient ones designed to look like historic ones found in photos from the Dedham Historic Society, O’Connell said.
Traffic lights will be added at High Street and Eastern Avenue, and traffic patterns reconfigured to make pedestrian crossings safer, she said.
Before and after views of Dedham Square, courtesy Town of Dedham.
In addition, crews will repave the roads, add turning lanes, and put brick accents on sidewalks and crossings.
The town already has spent $250,000 on design and engineer work, and construction should start next spring and be substantially completed by the fall, O’Connell said.
Dedham Square, which has about 140 small businesses, has seen no infrastructure improvements in probably 50 years, O’Connell said. At the same time, Dedham has become “a retail mecca” with the influx of shopping complexes like Legacy Place, Dedham Mall, Dedham Plaza, and other big box retail outlets, she said.
The $1.3 million project “will level the playing field for the Square,” she said. “It improves everything a historic downtown needs to make it competitive.”
Dedham Square Circle, a civic organization aimed at revitalizing Dedham Square, was involved from the beginning in trying to get the state money. The group raised the first $25,000 to pay for an initial required engineering study, said executive director Amy Haelsen.
“Our continued private-public partnership with the town has been one of the key factors in generating the positive momentum for this project,” she said. “We look forward to our continued collaboration with the town to see this project through to its successful completion.”
Peter Reynolds, one of the co-founders of Dedham Square Circle, said people originally scoffed at the idea of a revitalized Dedham Square, but that only redoubled the group’s efforts.
"One of the secrets to our success is built into the model of the Dedham Square Circle,” Reynolds said. “It is a circle of friends who care about the Square. Some towns have merchant groups, but this is a circle of all stakeholders: residents, business owners, employees, landlords, customers, and town officials. Big ideas need people coming together working for a single cause."
" I remember the summer of 2005, I wandered over from our family's newly opened children's bookstore, The Blue Bunny, to go visit my pal Paul McMurtry, who had recently bought the old movie theatre and had sunk a lot of money into renovating the lobby,” Reynolds said.
“We both wondered why our downtown, while charming, had a lot of less charming traits, like a crumbling parking lot, crosswalks that were long and challenging for pedestrians, and streetlights that looked more like mall parking lights.”
Reynolds said he and McMurtry drove around to surrounding towns, taking photos of the brick-lined sidewalks, historic-style lighting, and other attractive details “that made their downtowns work. ... We drove back to Dedham with the resolve to make the same thing happen in the heart of our town,” he said.
The state money will go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
O’Connell, who wrote the grant application, said the amount was the largest the town had received for work related to economic development. “I’m glad I came in those Saturdays to work" on the application, she said.
The grant, which was announced Wednesday at a press conference in Dedham Square, comes from the state’s MassWorks Infrastructure Progam. The new program combines six existing ones that provided state money to communities for such things as roads, sewers, water treatment systems, parking facilities, and pedestrian walkways.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.