Rockland Chamber Of Commerce Plans to revive downtown Rockland in early stages (Wednesday, February 15th, 2017)
Plans to revive downtown Rockland in early stages
By Mary Whitfill
The Patriot Ledger
ROCKLAND - Downtown Rockland was once packed with restaurants and shops, serving as a go-to shopping spot for townies. Today, downtown holds mostly banks and town offices, along with a few businesses that have survived the competition from shopping malls and plazas.
Now, the town is trying to restore downtown's Union Street with a revitalization plan that officials say will bring back business, residents and traffic.
"Every community needs a center. It's the heart and soul of the community whether it's the holiday celebrations, the veterans memorials or the high school championships," Town Administrator Allan Chiocca said. "Rockland does have a small-town feeling."
The town is holding a public forum to discuss revitalization plans at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Rockland Senior Center, 317 Plain St.
"I think Rockland has been forgotten about, but it's coming back to the forefront," said Noel Bowler, owner of Rockland Bar and Grill. "It's up and coming."
The town is making plans for a downtown area that would include zoning for retail, commercial and residential space. Chiocca said he is looking to towns like Plymouth that have capitalized on tourism and development of town centers.
"Downtown Plymouth has a lot of shops, certainly a lot of restaurants and choices for people. I think they have a great downtown," Chiocca said.
Tired of watching residents head to more developed retail areas like the Hanover Mall and the Derby Street Shoppes, Chiocca said the town's plan, which would be developed under a state program called Chapter 40R, is the perfect option for making the area more economically competitive. Because the program includes an affordable housing component, it would also help Rockland meet the 10 percent affordable housing stock the state requires. Only 6.4 percent of the town's housing stock is classified as affordable under state law.
The Rockland Chamber of Commerce is eager to be a part of the plan, seeing it as a way to bring a more sustainable business environment to downtown, said John Medlin III, chamber co-chair. While a few businesses have managed to remain stable on Union Street, the area is dotted with empty storefronts. Long-term owners have noticed a steady turnover of businesses that don't contribute to the town's long-term growth.
"I feel like people don't come to Rockland Center unless they have to. There is nothing to make people stay, to come and spend an afternoon," Medlin, owner of Rockland Athletic Supplies, said. "We see that changing a little, especially with the success of Union Point, and we want to capitalize on that momentum."
Union Point, the redevelopment of the former 1,400-acre South Weymouth Naval Air Station, lies partially in Rockland.
Rockland Center is a 10-minute drive from the MBTA commuter rail station in South Weymouth. Currently, a fence blocks the north end of Union Street and prevents a direct connection to Union Point. Business owners say removing the fence is the best way to draw business to downtown Rockland, but residents along the north end of Union Street are opposed.
"Do you want the quiet of a dead-end street, or do you want your home value to skyrocket?" Bowler, the Rockland Bar and Grill owner, said. "It's tough. People are skeptical that this plan is actually going to work."
Jessica Palombo, general manager of Rockland Bar and Grill, said she understands residents' hesitation but thinks connecting to Union Point is a now-or-never situation.
"With everything they are planning to build there, they need to open up the road now because soon people will have no reason to leave the development," Palombo said. "They need to be able to get to Rockland and see everything that's going on."
Chiocca agrees. "We're looking at, obviously, the development at Union Point. There is going to be a lot of residents there and a large customer base," he said. "No man is an island, and no community is. We have to be aware of what's going on around us and we have to make sure we're attractive."
Paul Ingalls, who has owned John's Barber Shop on Union Street since 1992, said he has seen it all in downtown Rockland.
"I've seen good and bad things," he said. "It's got potential. Rockland is a nice town. It's not a really poor town and it seems like the (Rockland Chamber) is doing everything it can to help businesses out."
A $15,000 state grant and $10,000 grant from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council are paying for the revitalization plan.
Mary Whitfill may be reached at email@example.com.