GREAT BARRINGTON -- Businesses in the downtown area soon will have the opportunity to band together and establish a Business Improvement District.

Great Barrington is one of eight towns awarded a grant totalling $80,000 from the state Department of Housing and Community Development to form such a district. It was the only Western Massachusetts community on the list, according to Jayda Leder-Lewis, a spokeswoman for Gov. Deval Patrick.

The awards went to Amesbury, Harwich, Ipswich, Maynard, Reading, Wakefield and Westminster as well as Great Barrington, Leder-Lewis said. A total of 26 cities and towns applied for the funding through a competitive application process.

The town's portion of the grant will go toward hiring a part-time consultant to initiate a discussion between the town and local businesses to gauge the level of interest in creating a Business Improvement District, according to Town Planner Chris Rembold. No timetable has been set for hiring the consultant or conducting the discussions.

A BID is a designated district in which business owners would vote to initiate, manage and finance supplemental services above and beyond the baseline of services already supplied by the town. In order to finance these services, a special assessment or common area fee, would be levied on property only within the district.

These services could be anything, from planning, extra maintenance, promotion, business services or even renovations, according to MassGov.com.

"I think it's a good idea," said Rob Navarino, owner of the Chef's Hat on Railroad Street. Navarino had advocated a similar plan a few years ago.

"We brought it up about three years ago, and maybe it wasn't the time for it. But with the Main Street reconstruction looming, this might be a better time for the downtown business community to have a voice."

Rembold emphasized that local businesses will have to decide whether they want to pursue creation of a district.

"It's up to them," he said. "If they want to go forward, fine. If they don't, that's fine, too."

The advantages, Rembolt said, are that the business community would have a specific voice on downtown affairs and also would have a dedicated revenue stream to put toward improving the downtown area.

He said potential projects would vary in size depending on how much money businesses would be willing to commit to the BID.

"It could be anything," he said. "If you wanted to hang a banner in the downtown area, that would be one cost. If you wanted to build a parking garage, that would be a larger commitment.

"But it will depend on what the business community wants."

To reach Derek Gentile:
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