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GONE: Economic-development coordinator heads to Natick

Ted FieldsFields

Cites accomplishments in interview

UPDATED, Sept. 3: As residents wait to see whether retail tenants will fill some of the Center's empty storefronts, Town Hall has lost its only economic-development professional, and it seeks another.

Ted Fields, who has been the town's economic-development planner since April 2013, has moved up to the position of senior planner in Natick.

In an interview with YourArlington Thursday, Sept. 1, he discussed his three-plus years here, citing projects that gave him pride and one yielding some frustration.

The highs outnumbered the lows, he said.

The former included attracting coworking, shared spaces in one location that businesses rent; leading the development of mixed-use zoning amendment; and working to increase outdoor seating at restaurants.

Tops on his list was helping to make possible Workbar's opening of an Arlington branch. That followed two conferences he arranged, the first called "incubation" (detailed here), in June 2014, and the second "coaction," the following fall.

That led to establishing a branch of the coworking chain Workbar on Mirak property in the Heights. Read an overall report about coworking >>

Led to Mirak partnership

Connecting Workbar with Mirak's property division led to a partnership, and the Arlington company did "in the area" of $2 million" in improvements to space at the Theodore Schwamb buildings. Renovations included geothermal heating and attractive facilities for business, increasing the value of the property.

Second on his list was his role in shepherding mixed-use zoning amendments, recommended by the town master plan and adopted by Town Meeting last spring. Such guidelines encourage development that include businesses at ground level and residential units above.

"This sets the stage for the development of properties in the Center on Broadway and elsewhere," he said. Such projects, if pursued, would help improve Arlington's unbalanced tax base -- which stands at 95 percent for residential and 5 percent for commercial properties.

Fields said these changes have "set the stage" for developers.

He said he thought mixed-use projects could help raise the commercial tax share to 7 or 8 percent in 10 to 20 years -- the share he said it had in the 1980s. He said he had often heard this range of forecast numbers Carol Kowalski, the former town planning director, and others during the master-planning process.

Outdoor-seating expansion

Fields also spoke with pride about his role in "really expanding" the number of restaurants having outdoor seating. That includes Common Ground, Olivio's, Retroburger, Za and Sugo.

In addition, he cited his efforts to help get more funding for the renovating of the Jefferson Cutter House, completed in July; as well as the 23 Maple St., housing beside the Senior Center for at-risk youngsters.

As to challenges, Fields said he had hoped to restore more storefronts through the block grants. He said the process put restrictions on funds available for fixes.

In 2015, a $7,500 grant from the program helped RPSD Realty complete a substantial renovation of 152-160 Mass. Ave. for tenant Casa Esme, a bilingual early education at Melrose Street.

He said the chief reason he has left Arlington is to pursue a better opportunity. As senior planner in Natick, he said his role would be "less siloed" and provide him a wider array of planning disciplines.

Following a story about Fields' departure, Jenny Raitt, director of planning and community development, confirmed that her quotations reported by WickedLocal Aug. 26 were accurate. She told the website: "If anything, Ted’s departure will have a positive impact. We’ve re-purposed [his position] to be as action-oriented as possible."

The description of the job, posted here, says: "Professional, technical work advancing the Town of Arlington’s economic development activities, recruiting and retaining businesses, increasing the commercial and industrial tax base, and working with multiple stakeholders to maintain economically-vibrant business districts to strategically position the town to compete regionally for economic development."

What description suggests

That description appears to mirror what Fields has been trying to do, particularly in the light of empty Center storefronts. He has worked this summer with citizen groups, Support Arlington Center, which aims to be part of a Town Hall public meeting this fall, as well as a group backing improvements to Arlington Heights. Fields and Raitt attended a well-attended meeting hosted by the latter group in late July

Those seeking the job, which pays from $71,361 to 92,336, have until Sept. 9 to apply. Fields, whose last day was Aug. 26 after giving two weeks' notice Aug. 12, was paid near the top of the range.

Part of Fields' job was to recruit businesses. That included the biotech company Tetragenetics, which took over the former Harlow Scientific space on Mystuc Street in August 2015, he said in the interview.

As empty the Center's storefronts gained traction as an issue -- first at Town Meeting in the spring and then through local reporting by The Advocate and YourArlington, which the website documented in 2014 -- listings kept by Fields contributed essential data points to the discussion. See links to names and numbers here >> See all town economic-development links >> 

Fields, who grew up in Lexington and lived in Cambridge, moved to Arlington in 2007. He came to work here after having served as community-development coordinator for the Town of Framingham from 2010 to April 2013. Before that, he served in planning departments in Waltham, Cambridge and Newton, dating to 1998.

He holds a bachelor's degree from Cornell University (1990), with a concentration in housing and community development, and a master's in regional planning (1993) from the University of North Carolina.

Second to hold job; opening filled

Fields was the second in town to hold an economic-development position. The first was Alex S. Manoian, who left because of family reasons in January 2013 after declaring broad hopes while serving since the summer of 2012.

Meanwhile, the Arlington planning director has filled one opening. Raitt reported that Nathaniel "Nat" Strosberg began working Monday, Aug. 29, as a senior planner. He replaces a position held by Joey Glushko until earlier this summer. Raitt said he will serve as a liaison from planning to the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, Vision 2020 and the Open Space Committee, as well as working with the Mill Brook Corridor Study Group, a subgroup of the Master Plan Implementation Committee. He will also help prepare department reports to the Redevelopment Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

On the plus side for Arlington Center businesses, signs in the window of the former Wild Child clothing store on Medford Street, which closed this summer, says in an Aug. 30 photo: "Coming Soon: Elite Freestyle Karate."The business has been renting space in Together in Motion at 1 Broadway. 

Aug. 3, 2016: Are landlords squeezing store owners with larger plans in mind?

Aug. 1, 2016: 100 turn out to help the Heights live up to its name

July 11, 2016: Residents' energy aims to spur town to fill Center's emptiness

June 21, 2016: Ideas unveiled aimed at refreshing Mass. Ave. in the Center

Aug. 22, 2014: Vacant -- but waiting to be occupied with your ideas

April 9, 2013: Ex-ARB member named to economic-development job

This news summary was published Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, and updated Sept. 3, to include interview.

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