Athol wants visitors to find its attractions

  • Athol's Main Street. Town officials are seeking a grant to improve signage in downtown. Staff photo/Paul Franz

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 6/10/2021 1:46:28 PM
Modified: 6/10/2021 1:46:32 PM

ATHOL — Planning and Development Director Eric Smith went before Athol’s Selectboard at its June 1 meeting to seek its endorsement of his effort to land a wayfinding grant from the state’s Downtown Initiative, which is overseen by the Department of Housing and Community Development. While no monies will flow directly to the town, Smith is seeking about $25,000, which the state will then pay to a consultant hired by town officials to examine Athol’s downtown and suggest ways to improve its wayfinding services.

The dictionary defines “wayfinding” as: “the process or activity of ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.” Put simply, the town wants to develop signage that directs visitors downtown to services, businesses, recreational opportunities and other amenities.

“The Mass Downtown Initiative is a grant program that’s been every year, as far back as I can remember,” Smith told the board. “Over the past five years, I’ve been successful in getting grants from this program for a retail market assessment of our downtown, a downtown parking management plan and, most recently, a downtown housing study.”

Smith said a recent study undertaken under a Rapid Recovery grant found that wayfinding is lacking in downtown Athol.

“Basically, the finding of the consultant was that we don’t have any really good wayfinding system right now. We’ve got a couple of old ‘Downtown Athol’ signs put up in the ’90s, but we really haven’t had any kind of wayfinding system in place.”

Smith said that the creation of a Parking Benefits District will help cover the cost of implementing a wayfinding system. The PBD, however, must first be approved by Athol voters. An article seeking that permission is included on the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting this Monday, June 14.

“If you come into downtown Athol right now,” Smith told the Athol Daily News, “there are some sort of remnants of what might be considered a wayfinding system but it’s certainly nothing consistent and nothing very well organized.

“We did get the DPW some years ago to put up parking lot signage, how to get into the municipal lot behind Main Street. And there’s a library sign. There are a few signs like that but, again, there’s no cohesiveness to it.”

He then referenced the town of Maynard, which has established a wayfinding system.

“They went through this process some years ago,” Smith explained, “and actually had it implemented. It has kind of a nice New England design architecture to it that directs people to the downtown, to the library, to shopping and restaurants, and to the parking lots — things like that. So, that’s the idea behind it.

He added that the Downtown Vitality Committee is interested in erecting signage that directs people to the downtown area from Route 2 and from the North Quabbin Commons area.

“That would hopefully be part of the study,” he continued. “What would happen with this grant is that the consultant would view what we have, review the layout of the downtown and how to get people downtown from different areas.

“And in the end, besides getting a program and a plan in place, we could also get an estimate of the costs. Then we have to go and purchase the signs.”

Smith said all of the signs that would be part of the wayfinding system would employ a standardized design and a consistent font.

“It sounds like a great opportunity for us to take advantage of some state money to help support local initiatives,” Selectboard Chair Rebecca Bialecki told Smith at the June 2 meeting.

The board’s endorsement of the grant was unanimous.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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