The Wrecking Ball

   It is time to demolish some buildings in downtown Waterbury.

   For several years I have been advocating that we knock down some blighted buildings in downtown, particularly near and on South Main Street and North Main Street.

   After the beautiful renovation of City Hall, it’s time to focus on removing blight and creating new parking.  Over the last 30 years, people’s habits have changed. Parking garages are a necessary evil, but everyone prefers surface parking; for example, look at the new malls with spread out buildings and direct surface parking. As we continue to see mixed use development taking place, with apartments being constructed on Bank Street and other downtown locations, it is imperative that we remove the eyesores and create more parking.

  Most of these eyesores have been unoccupied for many years. The city can condemn or buy these buildings, which is vital to our long term development plan for downtown. The primary focus of this plan should be along the center of South Main St., the entrance to our city, behind Bank St. and the bottom of North Main, the old parking garage, and even upper North near the pharmacy.

   There are some exciting, new developments being discussed and though still in the formative stages, more space and parking are essential ingredients. We have interested developers proposing to rehab significant buildings in the Willow St. area for apartments, and eventually retail, this could be the beginning of a makeover we have long hoped for in the western part of downtown . We will continue to work with these investors, it doesn’t make any sense trying to develop apartments and retail space in and around these blighted buildings – it’s time for them to go.

   We have a great brownfields rehabilitation plan, thanks to the hard work of Rep. Jeff Berger and the entire Waterbury delegation with the leadership of Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commerce President Gary O’Connor, and we need a tandem plan to demo buildings in key areas of downtown.

   The Chase Industrial Common brownfield clean-up will begin soon, with work in the North End to follow and then on to the South End. Speaking of the South End, Loyola Development, under the capable leadership of Craig Russell, conducted a workshop with neighborhood leaders last week. We established small groups to work on new businesses and neighborhood issues. I was impressed with the positive attitudes and commitment of the participants.

   Meanwhile, a few new businesses are opening downtown – a hair salon, a high tech business and a few others that are in the works. Slowly, but surely, people are seeing opportunity for growth in spite of this continuing recession.

   Working with the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT), we continue to help local manufacturers grow their businesses, and are working with a few that are looking to move into town.  February was recorded as the strongest month for factory jobs since 1973, a very good signal for economic recovery. The jobs plan is simple: focus on the businesses that are struggling through this recovery and help them to be in position to hire tomorrow. No one has the capital or funding to start medium or large size businesses at this time, so small business development and diversification of our existing manufacturing sector is a winner.

   Nationally, more than half of all manufacturers are keeping employment level and 35% are actually adding jobs. That’s the biggest positive change in over 35 years. In the past year, factories have added 189,000 workers, an increase of 1.6%, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but in this economy is a very positive trend. Here in Connecticut we added 1,800 manufacturing jobs over the last year, but we still have a long way to go to catch up to our pre-recession employment numbers; we are still over 20,000 jobs short. For the most part, any job growth across Connecticut was from our existing business pool, and not from companies moving in.

   On another front, CoCo Key Resorts is in the process of selling all of its parks across the country, and here in Waterbury they have sold their facility to a local Long Island business venture. In 2008, CoCo Key opened after making an investment of over $20 million in the indoor water park. The hotel now has 282 rooms, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, and a 55,000 square foot water park. With a new owner and resources, watch for some exciting new things to happen at this facility. We look forward to working with Sage Hospitality in making this hotel a destination for families across the northeast region. In addition, the hotel and water park will offer job opportunities to hundreds of people in the Waterbury community.

   Now that this long winter is over and Spring is here, we will hopefully see increased economic activity, more jobs, and a brighter year ahead for all.