On Sept. 20, the Amherst Business Improvement District lost one of its own. Amherst Town Manager John Musante had served on the BID Board of Directors since its inception and was one of our biggest advocates, partners and cheerleaders.
Through a multitude of collaborations — from parking forums to high-speed fiber optics, the use of signs and community events — John never wavered in his support of the BID and in our shared commitment to the economic health and vitality of downtown Amherst. Only three days before his death, most folks saw him at the BID’s Celebrate Amherst Block Party. John loved this event and was in his usual jovial spirits.
“Celebrating” Amherst was something John always did well. As well as striving to make it better.
A long-range vision held by John, and many others, was of downtown Amherst as an innovation district. This was a dream shared by the BID and one that we were working together on. With us, bold developers are constructing new mixed-use buildings with flexible worker space and residential units to lead the way. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was a supportive source of funds to bury utility lines to pave the way for further projects.
No one was more excited about these downtown improvements than John. His patient and positive leadership were a constant source of relief for many in the development community when permitting or infrastructure issues were bogging them down. He wanted to make things better, easier, faster.
And by fast, we are talking high-speed gigabit Internet service. When other towns around the country started improving their economic sustainability through high-speed connectivity, John envisioned that success for Amherst. “This is an initiative that, when completed, will be one of the first of its kind in the Commonwealth,” John stated to the press. “Having gigabit service in downtown will be a huge tool to support innovation on campus and help in retaining and attracting talent to our town.”
The BID was thrilled to be a part of the initial discussions on this project and will carry on that project in collaboration with the town and the development community. John considered gigabit Internet service to be a “game-changer” for Amherst and it will be. More innovation spaces such as MassMutual want to locate in Amherst and we will have the necessary resources available to them.
With that spirit of cooperation in mind, John and I, as well as a fellow BID board member and a colleague from UMass, went to Washington, D.C., to attend the International Town Gown Association Annual Meeting. This gathering offers a chance to network with other colleges and universities and their municipal leaders. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to present on the topic of how the Amherst BID has served as a bridge for town-gown, economic development relationships.
Although a dry topic in many minds, we all had a blast with our presentation. The four of us stood up there together and handed the microphone back and forth as we collectively joked and described the strong working relationship among the town of Amherst, the University of Massachusetts and the BID. What audience members saw was the very real partnership and friendship that existed between us.
It made the great work we were doing so much more valuable.
John Musante was a partner, colleague, advocate and friend. His loss to the community of Amherst and the BID is a blow. But I take strength in remembering how much fun we all had while we were trying to make important and meaningful decisions.
John’s ability to turn a tense moment into laughter with a well-timed joke will remain in our hearts and minds as we all move forward with the good work to be done on John’s behalf and our own. Thank you, John, for your dedication and commitment to the Amherst and the BID. We will miss you.
Sarah la Cour is executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.