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January 10, 2013

Report Calls For $1.7B Investment In Mass. Cities

A state investment of $1.7 billion over the next decade would lift the economies and redevelopment of struggling urban centers outside of Boston, creating jobs and stimulating private investment, according to a new report from MassINC.

The report, published by MassINC and the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, calls for the state to commit $125 million a year for the next 10 years to a redevelopment fund that would provide seed money and leverage private investment for downtown renewal projects in urban centers around the state.

The report also calls for a state loan guarantee for private lenders backed by money in the redevelopment fund, income tax credits of up to $5 million annually for homebuyers who commit to purchasing and rehabilitating "substandard houses" in target neighborhoods, and the creation of three new UMass satellite campuses.

The Gateway Cities Initiative is a project intended to encourage policies that will help revitalize the 24 cities in Massachusetts that were once hubs of manufacturing and industry, but have struggled as technologies changed, people moved to the suburbs and businesses relocated to centers like Boston.

The MassINC Board and the fellows who advised the development of this and other reports include a mix of municipal leaders, lawyers, bankers, university researchers and social service advocates.

The report will be presented on today at a breakfast at The Hampshire House in Boston. Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki and Edward Walker, a Loeb fellow at Harvard and real estate developer, are the featured speakers, while Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti, Trinity Financial President Jim Keefe and Lowell Assistant City Manager Adam Baacke will participate in a roundtable discussion.

"For the overall Massachusetts economy to achieve the next level of growth, we need these regions to contribute in a way they haven't before. It is time for the commonwealth to have a conversation about targeted investments that generate growth in our Gateway Cities," said John Fish, CEO of Suffolk Construction and chairman of the board of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership.

MassINC estimates that a $1.7 billion state investment could spawn close to $7 billion in total investment over the next 10 years, and create 80,000 jobs.

But the push for hundreds of millions of dollars a year to be poured into cities around the state for development comes as revenues for the state have fallen short of more optimistic projections, forcing Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders to consider at least $540 million in mid-year budget cuts.

The state's unemployment rate held at 6.6 percent in December, despite losing 1,100 jobs. While Massachusetts has fared better overall than the national average in terms of unemployment, sluggish job growth has contributed to diminished tax collections. Jobless rates in many cities outside Greater Boston are higher than the state average.

The state, through its capital investment program, is already investing in some projects like the ones encouraged by the MassINC report, including Lowell's Hamilton Canal Project and Worcester's CitySquare project. The report, however, said both projects have "struggled to unfold" due to "limitations" of the existing tax credit and loan programs.

The report also calls for the creation of a $100 million revolving loan fund to support construction with low- or no-interest financing; $20 million a year in additional funding for the MassWorks grant program; $2.5 million to train and hire five professionals to serve in Gateway City economic development agencies; changes to the Business Improvement District statute; and $150,000 to collect and analyze public resale and market data to understand trends and the impact of state investments.

The report also proposes the coordination of economic development programs to foster growth in Gateway Cities, using existing grant programs to target anchor tenants for downtowns, adding by $2 million to cultural district grant programs, and dedicate $75 million from the higher education capital budget to create three satellite UMass campuses.

Read more

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