New coordinator Burkett laying groundwork for vibrant Broad St.

New coordinator Burkett laying groundwork for vibrant Broad St.

Laura Burkett’s job is to make sure that many years of planning and a planned huge reconstruction project don’t go to waste along Broad Street.

Burkett, newly hired coordinator of the Broad Street Regeneration Initiative, reached out to roughly 200 business owners along the corridor in Pawtucket, Central Falls and Cumberland as part of a Small Business Saturday effort to bring customers to the area.

“It was really a way for us to test to see if we can get some cohesion and collaboration,” she told The Breeze. “It was a low-risk kind of thing.”

Of the 200 businesses, 14 responded that they wanted to be part of the promotional effort, giving a special offer for the day to be included on a flier. While there were reports of mixed results with this first event, the owner of Tony’s Shoe Repair in Central Falls reported several new customers, which Burkett said is a significant win in that particular kind of business.

As Burkett saw it, the Small Business Saturday promotion was “laying some groundwork” for showing businesses that those behind the Broad Street Regeneration Initiative care about their success. There will be some “tough growing pains” as the reconstruction of Broad Street moves forward next year, she said, and her role is to “come alleviate a little bit of that,” working to keep business owners’ spirits up even as the roadway is torn up and redone.

At a number of the businesses along the corridor, she utilizes her Spanish in speaking to the owners about their concerns.

The Broad Street Regeneration Initiative has as its centerpiece a $11.5 million Rhode Island Department of Transportation project down Broad Street through Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Cumberland. RIDOT has hired VHB to do the engineering and design, which is due back by the end of the calendar year.

The program will include road repaving, sidewalk improvements, green and stormwater infrastructure improvements, pedestrian and bike safety improvements, and traffic light improvements along Broad Street.

Construction is anticipated to begin next spring.

The $11.5 million will cover the reconstruction of a 3.2-mile stretch of Broad Street from Exchange Street in Pawtucket, through Central Falls, and ending at Mendon Road in Cumberland. It combines the resurfacing project and a streetscape improvement project.

When completed, the Broad Street Regeneration Initiative will be outstanding for the area, say the mayors of the three communities included, with far better drainage, safer sidewalks, street trees, and other modern additions.

The Broad Street Regeneration Initiative has won a $50,000 grant to bring on new staff to continue driving the two-year-old project. The funding from the Rhode Island Foundation enabled the initiative to hire Burkett as project coordinator.

“This grant is 40 percent more than we awarded last year. The increase in funding is a vote of confidence in what BSRI achieved last year and its potential to do even more,” said Chris Barnett, senior communications and marketing offficer at the Rhode Island Foundation.

Burkett, a multi-lingual Pawtucket resident with 25-plus years of marketing and communications experience, replaces Jillian Finkle, who left to become principal planner for the city of Central Falls.

“The community grant awarded to BSRI by the Rhode Island Foundation is instrumental in helping us continue to provide a dedicated liaison to the business community impacted by this project,” said Bob Billington, executive director of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. “Laura brings a fresh perspective to the position and has already made initial contact with many of the business owners on Broad Street.”

According to Billington, the initiative has a long history, with organized efforts to improve the area actively in the works from 2007 to 2012 but hitting a wall and stalling from 2013 to 2016.

A renewed energy around the BSRI came in 2017 with an $11.5 million commitment in funding from the Rhode Island Transportation Improvement Program. Additional support from the Rhode Island Foundation at that time made possible Finkle’s hiring as a liaison to the businesses located on Broad Street. After a year of laying important groundwork in messaging and communications, Finkle has shifted gears but is confident Burkett will carry the project forward.

“I’m thrilled to play an important role in the continuation of BSRI 2.0 and have this opportunity to directly serve my community,” said Burkett, a leather artist with a studio on Fountain Street in Pawtucket. She is also the owner operator of ArtSmart Productions and produces the annual Art Providence Holiday Show in the Rhode Island Convention Center, set for this weekend.

Mayor Donald Grebien of Pawtucket stated that Broad Street is a pivotal thoroughfare for Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Cumberland. The addition of Burkett and her experience “will be instrumental to ensuring that our businesses and community are involved in the Broad Street regeneration process,” he said. “We welcome her to the team and are excited to continue the great work.”

A portion of funds from the Rhode Island Foundation community grant also supports a part-time grant writer for the project, a position recently filled by Bianca Policastro of The Policastro Group.