Our roundup of the latest Wellesley, Mass., business news:
Merchants raise ‘Parking, parking, parking’ concerns in Wellesley Square
Wellesley held a pair of online meetings this past week focused on concepts for a revitalized Wellesley Square design (lots of consultant-speak about “activating” areas). During the meeting for merchants (see Wellesley Media recording), there was acknowledgement that a landscape designer’s vision looked nice enough, but commenter after commenter emphasized that no changes can be made that take away parking spaces.
A mockup of a plan that would nix parking on one side of Central Street got a big thumbs down from merchants, a number of whom live in town.
“We hear you on parking,” said Wellesley Executive Director Meghan Jop, after the umpteenth merchant request not to take away parking, which can be an issue for customers as well as downtown employees.
“Please don’t take our parking away. We already have an issue with parking,” said retailer Eileen Fisher’s Gail Ward, who prefaced her parking comments by voicing her support for beautification of the Square. “A lot of times our customers drive by and if theres not a spot they don’t pop in. There’s not enough parking in the town, so if you could please implement that in your plan.”
Clever Hand Gallery artist Reme Gold said “The real estate motto is ‘location, location, location,’ the business model has to be also ‘parking, parking, parking.'”
Rick Cram, who spearheads marketing for Wellesley Square, said surveys conducted by the group have found parking to be the main issue holding back improvement of the shopping area. He cited surveys in which only four people had something good to say about parking, while 59 had negative feedback. “More parking is the first step in enhancing Wellesley Square and its future,” he said.
Demian Wendrow of retailer London Harness, said he’s found in talking to follow merchants that “Taking away even one spot is devastating to any of us.”
Most of the concepts laid out by consultant Beta Group looked relatively subtle overall, adding trees here, widening brick bands and sidewalks there. Traffic light work would be needed as well. The overall project could cost around $6M, hopefully with funds coming from sources such as the state and feds, not just local taxpayers. While efforts are in large part designed to boost the space’s vitality, Town Engineer Dave Hickey also said the area is just plain overdue for repaving, so it’s important to take these broader issues into consideration before doing that.
After parking, bricks were another hot button issue, with many saying they like the New Englandy look of bricks, but overall are against expanded use of them, particularly in crosswalks. Bricks are tough to maintain, and cause issues for those with mobility challenges, especially when they rise up unevenly. The possibility of faux brick surfaces was raised, as was the idea of painting crosswalks in colorful designs (other public art, yes, but this art critic says please no to this driver distraction that will not age well).
The possibility of making the current pilot hangout space at Cross Street and Central Street permanent, or adding other such spaces, also generated discussion. Several merchants said they were originally skeptical of the current parklet, though acknowledged it’s getting lots of use. Kimberly Kissam of retailer Isabel Harvey had her doubts but has found the parklet to be “incredibly warm and friendly, and even stylish.” Merchants even held a recent meeting at the space, which town officials were quick to point out is evolving to a prettier design as additional components make their way through the supply chain.
Brad Wasik of The Cheese Shop in Wellesley Square said forcing parklets into parts of Wellesley Square is like trying to change Fenway Park. “You’re not going to move the pole at this point,” he said. Wasik pointed to the traffic flow that the current parklet is disrupting, and said having people buy a Starbucks coffee and hang out there for an hour isn’t necessarily going to help other merchants. However, he did say that there might be other space within the Square that could be considered for such hangout spots. Wasik also suggested confining parklets, along with food trucks, to certain times of the week, like Sundays. However, town officials did say that setting up and breaking down parklets on the fly, at least how they’re currently designed, isn’t financially viable.
During the streetscape meeting for abutters and other residents (see Wellesley Media recording), parking was less of an issue (and as we learned from residents who have paid a small fortune for condos at Belclare, they’re dealing with rattling homes and falling art or glassware when vehicles rumble across bumpy Washington Street pavement). At least one neighbor said there’s actually plenty of unused parking if you go a block or so from Central Street, and another emphasized that downtown retail isn’t what it used to be in the age of online shopping, so macroeconomic considerations need to be made in planning. The Sustainable Wellesley group used the opportunity to make its pitch for bike lanes, electric vehicle charging stations, and other amenities to encourage pedestrian and non-gas-guzzling traffic (the town currently isn’t looking at bike lines through the middle of Wellesley Square, but is exploring more ways to encourage cycling around it.)
It’s unclear when any big changes will take place with the Square’s design. Decisions would have to be made by the Select Board and likely Town Meeting, Jop said, and she assured merchants and the public that they will be part of ongoing discussions. “There’s a long way to go on the design,” Jop said.
Lockheart Restaurant sign goes up
The sign is now up for The Lockheart Restaurant, an eatery with a southwestern theme slated to open soon at 102 Central St., in Wellesley Square next to the fire station. We invite the owners of this tacos-plus joint to keep us in the loop on when it might open. (We’ve also come across at least one ugly bit of evidence that a realtor could be taking space next door).