Crumbling Sidewalk: 14th & 10th, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ol slambert’s photostream

President Obama and leaders at the national level have been advocating for a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank for several years. The nation’s infrastructure was recently rated D- (an improvement from previous years!). We are falling behind in keeping up our critical roads, bridges, and tunnels, not to mention our public transportation systems. The National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank would serve as a funding stream for infrastructure upgrades and would put up federal funds to leverage private investment. We can take the principles of the National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank and apply them locally to support small-scale economic development projects like revitalization of our business districts.

Local Development Bank

Just as with the National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, the model of a Local Development Bank is that stakeholders all opt, voluntarily, to pay in a little bit of money up front to support common efforts and then reap the rewards of that investment over time.

I envision the URA and a newly-created Office of Small Business Services creating the Local Development Bank as a tool for small business owners to collectively leverage funds, with the support of the city, to grow their business districts, increase property values, and attract new customers. For example, if a group of business owners on Brookline Boulevard or Centre Avenue wanted to get together and form a Local Development Bank, they could work with the city to each chip in some funds. These funds would be banked and made available via application for facade renovations, sidewalk repairs, interior upgrades, or the outright purchase and renovation of buildings within the defined business corridor. Once a newly purchased or renovated building was leased or sold, every business owner who invested money would get a return on that investment proportional to the amount they put in and the profit earned. A portion of those proceeds would stay in the Local Development Bank as seed money for future projects.

Neighborhood organizations, local chambers of commerce, small business partnerships, or even informal groups of small business owners could all work with the city to create Local Development Banks in their neighborhoods and start to exponentially increase the impact of their investments.