By the turn of the 20th century, a relatively sleepy New England community had become a stronghold of academia. Amherst became a “college town” in 1821 with the founding of Amherst College. In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, paving the way for additional growth with the creation of the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1863.
In 1965, Hampshire College joined the ranks and Amherst’s number one commodity was officially higher education. The bonds forged between the town and the university and colleges in 200 years or so formed the basis of our economy and the unique character of Amherst. Town and gown have lived reasonably harmoniously in Amherst ever since.
With the growth of the Commonwealth’s flagship campus, and Amherst and Hampshire colleges, Amherst thrived with commerce created by, and catering to, students, faculty and staff from all three institutions. For two centuries, famous poets wrote here, brilliant scholars studied here, world-class athletes played here, and all called it home.
Amherst was, and remains, a town that fosters creativity, intellectualism and achievement. What has been significant throughout our history is the communication and collaboration among the academic institutions, town hall and the business community. In my opinion, those ties have never been stronger.
Neither “town” nor “gown,” the Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) has been lucky enough to participate in a variety of programs and initiatives with both the town and the institutions that contribute to the economic sustainability of our downtown. Last August the consultant hired by UMass and Amherst to provide a report on town/gown housing and economic development issues observed that the Amherst Business Improvement District was a valuable forum. This designation emphasized that the BID is a unique economic development tool for enhancing university and town relationships and strengthening the business community.
Representatives from UMass, Amherst College and the town are members of the BID board and have worked diligently to provide an atmosphere for joint progress that supports the overall economic health of downtown Amherst. Memorandums of understanding between the BID and the town, UMass and Amherst College solidify cooperation and contribute to the BID’s ability to operate effectively in all arenas.
For several years now the BID has been providing a high level of services, programs and activities that have helped to strengthen the ties between the town, the institutions and the business community.
With higher education as our primary industry, it is important that we maintain a downtown that reflects the interests of these constituents and, more importantly, welcomes them. BID trolleys meet incoming students and their parents all summer at UMass New Student Orientation and we provide a “Dorm to Downtown” shuttle service on weekends once the school year gets going.
On Labor Day weekend, in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, we host “Adventure Into Amherst” for freshmen from all three campuses. In September, the BID hosts the “Celebrate Amherst Block Party.”
With every demographic in Amherst represented, this event epitomizes the town/gown spirit forged almost 200 years ago. Town staff work alongside college students, officials from the town and the institutions provide entertainment in the dunk tank and children and seniors mingle together in the middle of North Pleasant Street.
Amherst has a long and strong tradition of educating students. It is equally important to engage them in the community that they will call home for four years.
Through its wide variety of events, initiatives and programs in collaboration with the university and colleges, the BID is happy to be a partner in keeping downtown Amherst a cheerful and vital core that can sustain our success as one of the premier “college towns” in the country.
Go UMass! Go Amherst College! Go Hampshire College! Go Amherst!
Sarah la Cour is executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.