Editorial: Suhoski’s mission to rebuild Athol’s downtown a worthy one

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

It’s always good to have a plan, in case nothing better comes along, and maybe to encourage that something better is possible.

So, we applaud Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski’s plan to focus the attention of town planners in the coming year on creating a vision for “building back downtown Athol, block by block.”

He said recently he wants to work with key department heads to flesh out a framework for a downtown action plan.

This intention shows strategic thinking in a managerial job that can easily slip into passive reaction to the routine demands of each day. In that case, town leaders never lead, never get out ahead of events, to shape the community’s economic development.

Stating a priority for the year helps focus a town administration’s attention on an over-arching priority and helps ensure progress is made.

In the case of downtown rejuvenation, Suhowski plans to put to use a marketing study completed by Peg Barringer and the Urban Land Institute/Technical Assistance Panel over the past year to guide the effort.

And he’s already seeking to target federal Community Development Block Grant money to eligible projects in the downtown target area, starting with Marble Street.

Suhoski also noted that over the next couple of years the town must explore options for the old fire station building on Exchange Street and re-establish a downtown fire station for an ambulance and first response firefighting.

“Roughly 80 percent of Athol’s population resides within a three-quarter-mile swath of downtown on each side of the Millers River and response times would greatly benefit and reduce the need for heavy vehicles traveling the steep grade to the uptown station,” Suhoski reasons.

Another component of a downtown rejuvenation effort is already taking place: fresh appointments to the Downtown Vitality Committee, which presumably will work town employees and others to boost the fortunes of downtown merchants and the Main Street commercial district as a whole.

Already there are signs of progress on which to build:

Construction of a brewery in the former Plotkin Furniture warehouse at 105 Marble St. is progressing. Business owner Joseph Gochinski of Atlantic Brewers & Distillers has reported the building renovation is about 80 percent complete. He hopes to finish the work and install equipment in late summer or early fall, with taps serving the public by early 2019.

And the Athol Grill at 491 Main St., formerly Cinnamon’s restaurant, is also expected to open in the near future.

At the same time, Suhoski plans to convene the leaders from Public Works, Planning and Community Development Block Grant offices and downtown property owners to plan downtown improvements.

What we are seeing are several components and players being marshaled toward an important community goal: re-energizing the downtown to play a more vital role in the community’s identity and its commercial health. And the town manager and the people he works for and with deserve credit for attempting the hard work of moving the needle on a significant and important project while attending to the daily management of town government.

But it’s easier said than done, and we encourage anyone in the town who cares about the community to offer to help or step up when asked.

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