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The second part in a series on the development of the Plymouth 400 anniversary
PLYMOUTH – On both sides of the Atlantic there has been a great deal of activity surrounding the 400th anniversary of the founding of Plymouth, Massachusetts.
In the U.S, the commemoration effort has been underway for the last decade. Since 2012, when Plymouth 400 hired its first professional staff, that organization has had to fight to gain sufficient financial support to pursue ambitious goals.
A few years after Plymouth 400 Inc. became a nonprofit, Mayflower 400, its English counterpart, got off to what appeared to be a rousing start and its leadership made several forays to these shores to tout their organization and its efforts.
It seemed ironic and fed into that cynical narrative that the country that the Pilgrims couldn’t wait to leave might have a more robust celebration of that historical moment than the country the Pilgrim’s gave birth to.
Is that in fact true?
There is certainly great enthusiasm for the 400th across south and southwestern England. But those individual communities aren’t necessarily getting much in the way of financial support.
Plymouth, U.K., is the exception.
The government funded the initial efforts of Mayflower 400 with a half-million pounds (over $750,000)
Plymouth, U.K., put much of those funds into building an organization, developing a website, and reaching out to partner communities, but there were also funds for other efforts and infrastructure.
Plymouth U.K. has a three-story Mayflower Museum, right on its waterfront.
After a few changes in the city council funds were made available for a long-planned $30 million art museum referred to as “The Box” with several rooms dedicated to the story of the Mayflower.
The national government is providing even more funds for the restoration of an Elizabethan-era building in Plymouth, U.K., and the development of three “heritage walking trails.” One follows sites from the 17th century, one walks the perimeter of the historic waterfront, and a third goes through the city center reminding visitors of what that city was like before it was firebombed by the Nazis in World War II.
Can Plymouth, Massachusetts, compete with that?
On a dollar for dollar basis, state Sen. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, said, “absolutely.”
DeMacedo ticked off, one by one, funds that have come to Plymouth because of the upcoming commemoration.
“A $1.5 grant from MassWorks in 2014 for Water Street improvements,” deMacedo said. “Two hundred thousand dollars from Complete Streets for Allerton near the Forefather’s monument, $2 million for Cordage Park including access to the train station, $3 million for renovations to Pilgrim Memorial State Park. Another $2 million for the repairs to Mayflower II.”
“We learned that lesson the hard way, found out that when she is not here, in the harbor, all businesses suffer,” Selectman Chairman Ken Tavares said during the interview. She is one of our most important tourist attractions, the second or third thing that people want to see while they are here.”
“The eyes of the world are going to be on Plymouth in 2020,” deMacedo said. “That’s the case we needed to make, and I think that message is starting to get through.”
“It really reminds me of a quilt,” Tavares said. “All of these pieces individually may not seem overly significant to some, but taken altogether they are really meaningful. We are getting ready for 2020, but we are also creating a legacy for the years afterwards.”
“We may not be building any new monuments, but the real legacy of 2020 is going be in all the work that is being done,” Tavares said. “All of the improvements, the new sidewalks and signage.”
And then there’s the dredging.
Until this summer no one thought it likely that the town would receive the nearly $14 million dollars that was the estimated federal share of the cost of the dredging of Plymouth harbor.
Plymouth had to get in line behind projects all across the country.
Then in one recent week first U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Massachusetts, and then U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, announced that the Army Corps of Engineers had included the Plymouth dredging project in its fiscal 2019 budget.
Is this actually a 2020 project? Yes, absolutely, says everyone involved, including Markey.
“Mainsails and masts may have given way to cargo and cruises, but Plymouth Harbor’s esteemed position in American history lives on,” Markey stated then. “The Pilgrims safely navigated Plymouth Harbor’s waters, and their descendants should be able to make the same journey.”
During a separate conversation Plymouth 400′s Executive Director Michele Pecoraro laughed when asked if she could have imagined that one of the most important legacy projects that would come out of the commemoration effort would be the dredging of Plymouth harbor, but she is not the slightest bit apologetic.
“The dredging and perhaps more importantly the involvement of Sen. Edward Markey, that was a key moment,” Pecoraro said. “And not just his support for the dredging, but about six weeks before that announcement, when we got to sit down with Senator Markey, sit right across a table from him and for 90 minutes be able to download everything that has gone on and what our hopes are.
“Then just a few weeks later he’s here, in Plymouth Harbor with the second in command of the Army Corps of Engineers who says that this is a project that needs to happen.”
“To have someone at the federal level recognize the importance of this commemoration, that was huge,” Pecoraro said.
DeMacedo says he sees it all starting to come together. Taking a step back and looking at the bottom line he estimates that the state has already chipped in $16.75 million, and with the money for the harbor dredging total support is in the $30 million range.
“That’s pretty significant, and it doesn’t even include with the town has done, all of the monies given the Arts Center, the Spire, the 1820 Courthouse,” deMacedo said. “So much important and often beautiful infrastructure that will have long-term benefits for the community.”
As for direct support for Plymouth 400 staff, deMacedo says that all told the state has allocated $1.2 million in the years the nonprofit organization has existed.
“We know what the perception is about the lack of support,” Pecoraro said, “but those funds have been the base of our operation since before we had a complete professional staff. Those funds allowed us to build a solid foundation and frame this house and now it’s time to finish the job.”
Follow Frank Mand on Twitter @frankmandOCM.

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