The surprising renaissance of Boston’s dangerous downtown “Combat Zone”

The history of Boston, Massachusetts is long and rich and deep, and so it was just a few municipal eye blinks ago when its critical core had sleazy strip clubs on its edges, grime on its streets, and a deep and ugly hole in its heart that for the longest time seemed unfixable.

That’s what makes Downtown Crossing’s renaissance so startling. That’s why to walk through the neighborhood today is to discover a deceptively stunning reality: It’s a neighborhood, a truly vibrant one, after all. This is the formerly-dangerous neighborhood that locals used to refer to as “the Combat Zone”.

There are upscale coffee shops on every other corner. More than 30 high-tech companies have moved in. There’s a lively and clean new residential district, home to more than 10,000. There’s a set of stone steps to nowhere, loosely modeled after a space in Times Square, where performers will soon entertain sidewalk traffic measured at some 250,000 each day.

The Opera House is booming. Fancy restaurants feature all-star chefs. The Godfrey Hotel is a newly polished jewel. Unlike the swift and staggering growth of the city’s Seaport, the development equivalent of “Brigadoon,” what’s happened in Downtown Crossing is more long-running passion play than fanciful musical.

For Rosemarie Sansone, the former Boston city councilor who now runs the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, the glory days are alive all over again.

The Downtown Boston Business Improvement District (BID) is a private, non-profit corporation created and maintained by property owners. We serve the entire downtown community — businesses, employees, residents, students, and more. Their mission is to transform and engage Downtown Boston through programs and supplemental services that meet area needs.

The Downtown Boston Business Improvement District recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Boston’s first BID, they pioneered a collaborative effort among area stakeholders that is creating a clean, safe, and vibrant environment for everyone who experiences the district. They promote increased business activity and enhanced property values while attracting further investment in the area.

Downtown Boston BID serves a 34-block area between Tremont and Congress streets and Court and Boylston streets that includes Downtown Crossing, the Ladder District, and parts of the Financial and Theater districts.

BID members represent more than 650 commercial properties and a wide cross-section of Boston’s business community — from local independent retailers to major corporations doing business globally. They fund the BID by paying a special assessment based on each property’s value, and the BID’s mission and strategy are informed by their concerns and needs. BID members elect a 32-member Board of Directors as diverse as their constituents.

Property owners of towers and commercial condominiums, industry leaders and independent businesses, non-profit organizations and residents, all volunteer their time as Board members in staggered three-year terms.

Image credits: Downtown Boston Business Improvement District

See full Boston Globe article by Thomas Farragher.

See Downtown Boston BID website.

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