Welcome to Main Street Waterbury! Calling all Boomers! Calling all Boomers!! That’s right, we should be shouting that out as far and wide as we can. In the next 10 years 40 million Baby Boomers in this country will reach retirement age. They might have some money to spend, that’s for sure. But what do they want? What will they do when they retire? Where will they go? Do we really know?
Here’s a hint taken from the September 2007 issue of Main Street News, a national publication. They want “affordable, mixed-income, handicapped-accessible, intergenerational housing in a historic downtown building near shopping, restaurants, public transit, and the library”. When polled about where they would like to live, they indicate that they would like a lifestyle that provides the following:
A sense of community with walkable downtowns – Hey, Waterbury has that!
Affordable housing – We don’t quite have enough of that yet downtown.
Culture and entertainment – Palace Theater, Mattatuck Museum, the Library etc. Plus great restaurants downtown.
Ease of getting around, public transportation – We have city buses but poor cab service with long waits – we would need to drastically improve this.
-Proximity to Health Care – We certainly have that.
-Availability of Jobs – Big problem.
-Access to outdoor recreation – Library Park, The Green, and close to an intended future “river walkway”
-Safety and Security – Crime is virtually non-existent in Downtown but the petty stuff i.e. littering, panhandling, loitering still exists and would have to be CLEANED UP!
-Communities with Colleges and Universities – We most definitely have that.
Communities across the U.S. are positioning themselves and preparing for the Boomer onslaught. Are we? Statistics are showing a trend by boomers, who have long since left their hometowns, of feeling a need to return to their roots and coming back to their place of origin.
This is an opportunity waiting to happen but only if we can be ready for it. That means cleaning up our act and demonstrating that the community cares. We need to demonstrate that we welcome the Boomer investment. We have to provide what they want or they’ll skip right over us. We have to provide that affordable housing for them. I don’t mean low-income, or subsidized housing. We have more than enough of that!
Rather we have to convert these wonderful majestic historic downtown buildings into mixed-use development with upper floor residency and ground floor commercial and retail. Let’s work to get these buildings viable again. An influx of Boomers into Downtown Waterbury could totally transform the landscape here.
However we have some housekeeping issues to attend to. First, as mentioned in last month’s column, we really need to offer incentives such as abatement strategies to promote the conversion of the buildings. Second, with regard to building code, we need to be flexible and proactive when converting these wonderful downtown buildings and take into consideration their age and historic prominence while at the same time being sensitive to issues such as ADA compliance and safety. Third, our zoning must accommodate the intended conversion and promote good design standards. This will entail issues such as parking requirements per building.
Aesthetics to the buildings is also important. We’ll need to look good, be conscious of aspects like lighting, landscaping, façade improvements, building awning heights, and storefront signage. Fourth, pedestrian safety will need to be addressed. Lowering speed limits downtown should be seriously considered.
For example, Bank Street downtown is a beautifully landscaped street with decorated planters, newly installed pole banners and great storefronts with on-street parking. Yet it is used for what I call the north to south “sling-shot” effect to the I-84 and Route 8 highway entrances. Cars and trucks seldom yield to the pedestrians trying to cross the brick paver crosswalks as they zoom through the Bank/Grand intersection to get out of downtown as quickly as they can.
Boomers are going to want that pedestrian experience of strolling from their residency to all points around downtown with ease. However, they are not going to want the feeling of taking their own life in their hands whenever they try to cross the street. We have a similar problem on West Main Street near the Green and going up East Main Street as well.
Fifth, safety and security are paramount. It’s not enough to be free of major crime. As great as that is and as great a job as our Police Department does, one purse snatching is enough to bring the whole thing down. One panhandler can ruin the whole image and get us back to the “perception” challenge again. Granted, we are a “City” and these things do happen in MOST CITIES. But our position should be a “ZERO TOLERANCE” policy that is clearly demonstrated at all times by consistent enforcement throughout the entire day.
Main Street Waterbury has been working very hard to generate activity and events downtown. We have been identifying buildings that would be ideal for rehab and a mixed-use strategy that would appeal to Boomers. We’ve been encouraging Downtown restaurants to add outdoor dining. We’ve been advocating for local tax incentives to help with the conversion of these buildings. We’ve been pitching the various tax credit programs that would represent real cost relief to building owners and developers.
There’s much more to attend to but the points above are an outline for success. The question is, are we ready to undertake them? Is this City determined to seize the opportunity that the Boomers offer? Main Street Waterbury certainly believes so. We just need others to believe in it as well. That means city officials, the politicians, civic leaders, downtown building owners, downtown merchants, and our community at large needs to believe it. They’re getting it more and more every day. When they fully do, we’ll be ready. Until then, if you believe in our mission, our vision, and what we do, and you want to help, please call me at 203-757-0701 ext. 302 or email me at crosa@mainstreetwaterbury and remember keep thinking Main Street Waterbury, Culture, Education, Business