More than 100 Mansfield residents and public officials turned out on Saturday morning for the town’s first planning charrette.
The forum, organized by the University of Massachusetts Amherst director of the center for economic development Dr. John Mullin, was an open discussion about how residents and officials felt the town should focus its goals and plans over the next five years. The meeting was the culmination of organized strategic planning committees that have met over the past few month with Mullin discussing the town’s priorities.
While talk about the fiscal year 2013 budget was not a subject during the meeting, financial concerns and the current economic trend in town were definitely major topics of discussion.
“We have a lot to do and it’s not just a simple answer,” selectman chair Jess Aptowitz said.
Groups agreed that one of the major cornerstones in the plan should be economic development. The two major areas in town for economic development are the Cabot park and downtown Mansfield. Both areas are equally important, many agreed, but have their own needs and qualities in the town.
The business park would increase overall tax revenue substantially, but, according to Mansfield director of planning and development Shaun Burke, the income from the business park is more substantial and stable when a large company uses a good number of the buildings.
“The Cabot Business Park has been a large portion of our tax base for many many years,” he said.
Burke said that a major owner in the park is key for the town. When the park was first constructed, Cabot and Forbes built, owned and rented each space to other businesses, and were taxed on the property by the town as one business. In this way, Burke said, the town received a larger tax percentage on that one business than it would on the many smaller businesses housed in the park.
Burke also said that, because Cabot Forbes owned the park, it was more stable for the town, because if one of the renting businesses decides to move or goes under, the town would still collect the same amount of taxes. But Cabot Forbes sold off many of their assets and buildings, and the climate there is not as stable as before.
“We always had one large owner,” Burke said. “Right now that’s Prologis, but Prologis is getting out of New England, getting out of the Northeast; if they sell off their buildings who’s going to be the main property owner? That’s a real concern.”
Burke said that efforts to attract new businesses to the industrial park have been underway for a good time now. Aptowitz said that town manager William Ross has been talking with a company from Spain about moving to the park as well.
“Businesspeople are going to look to see where the best place for their business is,” he said. “We think Mansfield is the best place for their business. Mansfield is a very attractive place logistically… you could be in Providence, Worcester, the Cape and Boston in less than an hour. That’s a big marketing plus.”
Many residents at the meeting also mirrored the economic concerns for the park with those of the downtown area. The Mansfield downtown, according to Burke and Mullin, shows the character of the town and helps attract residents (according to at least a few residents at the meeting) almost as much as the schools system. He, and notes from Mullin, agreed that the biggest part of creating a vibrant downtown is the character, rather the things in the downtown area that make it unique.
“If you look at the demographic profile of Mansfield, it’s an affluent community and it’s a young community,” he said. “One would think what we would be looking at would be businesses that serve a young population.”
Burke said that businesses like healthcare providers, bakeries, jewelers and educational institutes would be more attractive to the population demographic. One resident agreed, and said that, as a new parent, there is very little to do in Mansfield that is family oriented, and that he, his wife and children have to go out of town for such diversions.
“Instead we have more service businesses,” he said. “Tanning salons, nails, hair dressers that kind of thing; what you’d find in any community, not specifically in our demographic.”
Burke added that while there are health care providers, such as the Mansfield Health Center or the New England Counseling center, such businesses are not normally in the center of town and it does affect how a potential resident may see the town.
“I’d like to see that kind of presence downtown,” he said. “What we want to do to revitalize downtown is to get something that provides a lot of foot traffic, and nothing generates more foot traffic than a doctor’s office.”
The full results of Dr. Mullin’s findings will be presented in town meeting on April 24.