A Master Plan for downtown Norwood:
a brief case history

Moving into the next millennium the vitality of the town center will be of considerable importance in sustaining property values. Trends point to more people working at home, greater traffic problems on major highways, continued time starvation, limited use of regional malls, return to "down home" values and an underlying need for familiar community. In real estate parlance, this translates to revitalizing the town center as a place to shop, to eat, to meet friends, and even a place to live and conduct business.

When the town center ails, the adjacent neighborhoods erode. Families with children, couples who work, and retired empty-nesters feel the dreary streetscape, hesitate to spend their dollars despite lower prices, search for better climes, and the market slowly sags. It is an all to familiar cycle in the real estate world. What can be done to reverse the malaise?

Most communities regardless of economic profile have experience change in demographics over the past 10 to 20 years. In addition lifestyles have changed, retail and recreational pursuits have changed and eating and drinking behavior patterns have changed. Yet, most town centers have not, leaving an enormous gap between town center as a place that could and should reflect a community's priorities and the reality. Such was the case in Norwood, Mass. before the Master Plan.

When we first entered the downtown of Norwood we found remnants of the former town center-that is a few retailers bravely hanging on, since the departure of the local department store and a few independent new retailers giving downtown Norwood a chance. We found three large vacancies in the center of the main street, and many disenchanted residents, property owners, and merchants.

Among the key findings from the initial phase of investigation, were: an antiquated liquor licensing approval process keeping new restaurateurs from locating in the town center; low density zoning that restricted mixed use of development; a worn streetscape with many shabby storefronts an facades; laws preventing outdoor seating; disgruntled property owners ready to rent ground floor retail space to office-users; and civic leaders stymied by controversy. There was no consensus nor vision for the future and there was considerable discussion about demolishing the buildings on the main street for a standard monolithic mall structure with street parking.

While it would take miracles rather than a master plan to resolve all these issues, we did succeed in solving some, which have a domino effect on solving others. What we were ale to accomplish was: Draft zoning for higher density mixed use in the town center. This has attracted a developer to purchase and old Stop and Shop for conversion to new condos. We identified the need and associated problem with attracting new restaurants, which was the lack of availability of liquor licenses for the town center and assisted in creating three been and wine licenses. Other results of our plan was the formation of a steering committee of business and government leaders to handle politically sensitive and controversial issues facing the town center, board of health approval for outdoor seating for cafes, and town meeting support for funding streetscape, sign, and facade studies for eventual grant applications, and a market niche and focus for tenant recruitment leading to a new home furnishings store and new restaurants instead of ground floor office tenants.

A master plan for action identifies the market niche and realistic vision for the future, identifies key issues, establishes realistic guidelines for tenant recruitment, provides a structure for organization and management, addresses issues relating to physical improvements and regulation and leads to short term implementation with consistent long term goals.

The Master Plan for Action for Norwood was a team effort led by Larry Koff and Associates, economic development, with Todreas Hanley Associates, retail market analysis, and Kopel Research, market research.