Michael Nichols, who previously led the Esplanade Association for five years, is now finding ways to breathe new life into the heart of the city as president of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District (BID). Nichols has served as president of the Downtown BID, a private nonprofit created and maintained by area property owners, since last October.
The organization was established in 2011 to help revitalize the downtown area following the economic downturn of 2008. (Property owners unanimously voted in June to keep the BID going for another five years.) It’s one of three BIDs in Boston, as well as one of 10 BIDs statewide. The Downtown Boston BID covers the area between the Boston Common and the Rose Kennedy Greenway, with City Hall and Chinatown on its other two sides. The district spans a 34-block area between Tremont and Congress streets, as well as between Court and Boylston streets, and includes Downtown Crossing and the Ladder District, and parts of the Financial and Theater districts. “The organization exists to promote a healthy business environment throughout the downtown neighborhood, including trash removal and general cleanliness services; providing maps and brochures to tourists; supporting public programming; addressing public safety concerns; providing social services coordination; and generally serving as the voice of the neighborhood on public-realm and other land-use processes,” said Nichols, who has lived in Boston since 2008. As the city continues to rebound from the pandemic, Nichols is extremely optimistic about the current state of Downtown Boston on the whole. “Overall, things are going great,” he said. “Boston’s downtown is one of the safest in America, and we have, in many ways, more things to do here now than we did before the pandemic. Most notably, 130 bars and restaurants are open today – even more than before the pandemic.” But despite his positive outlook, Nichols realizes that the city’s downtown must also evolve for it to continue to thrive in the future. “Downtown Boston, like every mayor city and major business district, is trying to reestablish itself into what it will look like for the next 10 or 20 years, so we have a lot of work on the way to not just revitalize the area but also to make it even better than it was before,” he said. “One of the things that will help is to bring more residents downtown. I’m excited to have the first residents in Winthrop Tower now moving in, and the BID supports Mayor Wu’s efforts to make it easier to convert office buildings to residential use downtown.” While serving as executive director of the Esplanade Association for five years until last September, and before that, as Chief of Staff of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy for three years, Nichols became well adept at programming the city’s greenspaces. But he has found in his current role that programming Downtown Boston comes with its own unique set of challenges. “While at the parks, the area was always open and available, here downtown, we have to balance programming with the office-worker schedule, with the tourist schedule, with the colleges’ academic calendars, and with the lives of our residents,” he said. “But that challenge just means that when we do produce great events, like our recent Temple Place Block Party or our expanded Harborfest, that everyone notices, and it gives downtown a terrific energy.” Added Nichols: “Local residents will come to really enjoy our expanded commitment to destination-worthy programming and begin to see many more fairs and festivals over the next few years.” Fostering new economic growth downtown is perhaps the biggest thing that Nichols has focused on since joining the Downtown Boston BID staff last fall. “Economic development may be the biggest area for me, where the BID wasn’t involved when I got here,” he said. “We’ve now launched multiple efforts to fill vacant storefronts with amazing businesses and short-term popups, including our own 3rd Space popup this past winter.” (The 3rd Space was a popup community space featuring art exhibitions from just practice and VERS Collab, live performances, and public discussions that Downtown Boston BID launched in winter 2023 in a previously vacant storefront at 12 Summer St.) Nichols also foresees more opportunities for expanded late-night offerings in Downtown Boston in the future, which he expects would be of particular interest to students, tourists, and hospitality workers, “We think the city is likely to get much more creative about supporting a late night economy in Boston,” said Nichols, “and the BID is very supportive of finding the right places throughout downtown for new business opportunities that stretch later into the evening, as so many of our stakeholders are seeking.” As Nichols sees it, an expanded late night is just one of the essential elements for Downton Boston to continue to thrive in the coming years. “I think the best way to revitalize downtown and chart the right course forward would be to foster a downtown that’s edgier with eclectic and authentic-to-Boston shops and restaurants; a broader commitment to the arts and culture; and a neighborhood that functions more hours of the day and more days of the week than before the pandemic,” he said. For more information on the Downtown Boston BID, visit www.downtownboston.org.