Welcome to Main Street Waterbury. It’s August and you might say we’re in the dog days of summer. Despite the heat and humidity, a lot of great things have been happening downtown. First let me comment as a follow-up to my July column and my comments regarding litter prevention for downtown Waterbury. Here’s an update. I’m pleased to say that thanks to the efforts of the Litter and Beautification Commission and Mike Ptak, the Waterbury Police can now issue tickets to litter bugs. The fine is $100. This applies citywide. So beware, if you are caught littering, you will get a ticket!

In addition, although the response from the private sector has not been as generous as last year, we’ve now raised enough funding to get our paid component of the Clean Team back on the sidewalks downtown. The Easter Seals of Greater Waterbury has designated a work crew to get us coverage downtown for a couple of hours every day. They started on August 1.

My theme for this column however, is Waterbury By Night! , The Next Step for Repositioning Downtown by John Shapiro.

You may recall that John Shapiro from the firm of Phillips, Preiss, Shapiro Associates conducted a downtown Waterbury Market Niche Study sponsored by the Connecticut Main Street Center on April 4th. Shapiro spent the day touring downtown, conducting interviews with merchants and key stakeholders and meeting with various other city officials. He concluded that day with an oral presentation discussing his initial reactions to his findings.

On July 21st, Shapiro returned to Waterbury with a more detailed written report the highlights of which I would like to share with you now.

His recommended strategy is positioning downtown as a fun and friendly place with many events and fine dining particularly at night. He logically lays out a blueprint to follow and includes the following points to consider:

-Specialization – Since the malls and Wal-Marts of the world have pulled retail out of the city centers and other major retailers set up shop in an already filled marketplace (a trend that Shapiro refers to as “cannibalization”), the need exists to find ways to “specialize” for downtown. Areas to specialize are restaurants, complimentary retail, events, place making, upstairs living and parking.

-Restaurants – What better way to draw people downtown than with a variety of fine dining. Based on Shapiro’s experience, eateries can represent up to one-third of the retail mix in any given downtown district. If that is the case, then downtown Waterbury can stand to have an increase of 8 more quality restaurants. Variety is the key. What types of restaurants do we currently not have and can we attract them to our downtown district to offer people more choices? Shapiro recommends creating a “restaurant row” around the Palace Theater and possibly up Bank Street.

-Complimentary Retail – What don’t we have downtown, in the way of retail, that can compliment the large entities such as the Palace Theater, Uconn, the Waterbury Arts Magnet School etc. and play upon this restaurants/art/entertainment theme. Ideas such as CD’s, audio equipment, musical equipment, sports equipment, clothing, boutiques, retro furniture, crafts, art studios and other related specialty stores can certainly make the retail scene more hip.

-Special Events – Taking advantage of the various events venues downtown such as the Palace Theater, Mattatuck Museum, Library Park, The Green and the Silas Bronson Library, schedule many events, tie them into to the dining and specialty shopping options and thus offer people choices. This will help to change perceptions and get Downtown Waterbury to a “two hour” destination stop thus appealing to a more regional audience. Studies show people willing to travel up to 30 minutes for an event with dinner.

-Place Making – Paying attention to the physical qualities of downtown are just as important as the retail/restaurant/events components. Creating a great pedestrian environment is important. Shapiro recommends, better lighting for both sidewalks and buildings, restore the Green, improve building facades, and calm the traffic. Specifically, he is recommending, widening cross walks, eliminating one way streets but not at the expense of parking spaces, allow more left and right turns, make the Green meet the potential it was intended for.

-Upstairs Living – Playing on the national trend of more white collar workers wanting to live in downtowns, Waterbury should look to develop more upper floor, market rate, housing in the historic downtown buildings. Shapiro also recommends the development of Live-work spaces, artist lofts, and student housing.

-Parking – Shapiro downplays parking as a major issue for downtown Waterbury. Citing the number of 4200 spaces that currently exist, he recommends looking for opportunities to increase street parking before taking on any major construction of new decks. More importantly, he recommends having any parking ticket revenues be directed towards downtown improvements.

-Management – The last point Shapiro makes relates to downtown management. While its extremely important to have Main Street Waterbury implementing the four point strategy for downtown revitalization, sustainability in the long term would be dependent on a steady revenue stream to finance downtown district services such as cleaning streets and sidewalks, graffiti removal, planters, marketing etc. This would be possible if the downtown owners choose a special services district or SSD management model subsidized by a supplement to the tax bill for property. But that, my friends, is a topic for a future column.

In the meantime, you can view the whole Shapiro report on our website at www.mainstreetwaterbury.com.

Now on to other Main Street activities currently underway or coming up. The Farmer’s Market is continuing every Thursday afternoon on the Green from 2PM-6PM. Thus far, reports and reaction to the market have been very favorable as downtown residents and workers have been taking advantage of the fresh produce and entertainment. I’m even told that several downtown restaurants have been ordering in bulk quantity from the farmers.

Phase II of the Holiday Lighting program is about to get underway. The City of Waterbury has made some funding available this year and Main Street has gone back to the private sector in the form of a challenge to match the City’s contribution. Phase II will enable us to continue where we left off last year with new holiday lights for the balance of streets in our downtown district. The plan for next year is to launch Phase III, which is to update the Green with new holiday lights and dÈcor.

The Downtown Merchants have been very active with events this summer and planned events once again for the fall. They have been showing a series of outdoor movies in the Uconn Courtyard. Scheduled movies were Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory shown on July 15, Broadway Danny Rose (starring Waterbury’s own Nick Apollo Forte)on July 29th, and finally Breakfast at Tiffany’s scheduled for August 12. All movies are free to the public and any funds raised from concession sales go to their organization as well as Main Street Waterbury. In addition, the Merchants are planning to bring back the Halloween Event “Mardi Gross” again this year.

The Palace Theater is gearing up for their 2005/2006 season. I attended the Doobie Brothers Concert at the Palace on July 21st. What a show! 2500 patrons were treated to excellent musical event. It was great to see so many people in downtown Waterbury on a beautiful summer evening. The downtown restaurants were crowded as well.

The Mattatuck Museum will hold a Flood of 55 commemoration on the Waterbury Green on Saturday August 20th from 12-3PM entitled A Celebration of Community Coming Together. Although I missed the Flood by a couple of years, many of my family members were around to see its devastating effects as it happened. I saw a photo of our entire Green completely under water. Since the flood changed so many lives in Waterbury and had such a profound effect on our history, this commemoration is one event that you won’t want to miss!

As always, I want to thank you for your support of our efforts to revitalize downtown. If you are interested in volunteering for Main Street, you can call my office at 203-757-0701 ext. 302 or email me at crosa@mainstreetwaterbury.com and remember, keep thinking Main Street Waterbury, Culture, Education, Business!