About fifty people, including town leaders and local developers, attended an Economic Development Summit on October 4 at the Reading Public Library hosted by the Town of Reading. The intent of the summit was to encourage developers to look to Reading when considering development opportunities. The event was hosted by Town Manager Robert LeLachuer who commented that only eight percent of Reading’s tax base is commercial or industrial and Reading’s peer communities raise on average an additional $12,000,000 of tax revenue from the business sector annually. “More business in town will not prevent the need for Proposition 2 ½ overrides, but it will make them much more manageable,” LeLachuer commented.
Jay Ash, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, highlighted the issue as well. “If we don’t act, from an economic development perspective, the world will pass us by,” Ash began. He continued to suggest several state programs including MassWorks which have grants available to help communities utilize their economic development potential. Senator Jason Lewis, who represents Reading in the State Senate, also commented on the bi-partisan efforts the legislature is working on to help communities pursue development including a new retail task force, a health care bill that will be introduced in a few weeks, and continued efforts to drive down the cost of energy through efficiency.
Selectman Vice-Chair Barry Berman spoke of the work that town government has done to help make Reading more attractive to development. Efforts such as a streamlined permitting process, zoning fixes and hiring a development director have helped show people that Reading is “Open for Business,” affirmed Berman.
Development Director Andrew Corona showed off a few of the new projects that are underway in town including the new Postmark Square Development, on the site of the former Post Office, and 20-24 Gould Street, which is in site plan review at the moment. Corona also shared about Whitelam Books and Cafe Nero, both located in downtown Reading. Corona spoke of the recently announced possibility that Reading and Wakefield could build a joint DPW facility at Camp Curtis Guild. While he cautioned that this could still be several years away, he pointed out the development possibilities of the current DPW site. It was suggested that redevelopment of the site into a corporate headquarters or office building could generate between $300,000 and $1,200,000 in annual tax revenue on top of the revenue from the sale of the land. This would be an increase of between six and twenty-four percent of what the town currently receives in tax revenue from commercial and industrial properties. Corona spoke also of the $15,000 grant Reading received for Wayfinding and Branding and an improved Economic Development website which highlights known available commercial properties in town. Corona concluded that he was available and eager to discuss possibilities in Reading with anyone with questions.
The summit concluded at 9:00pm.