Governor Elect Dan Malloy is certainly facing some tough challenges as he starts his new administration. He inherits a pretty sizeable budget deficit, a state roiling in a sluggish economy that is perceived by many to be “non-business friendly”, and very high unemployment, particularly in our region of Connecticut.
Our hope is that he will manage the challenges, listen to all sides, make tough but fair decisions, and lead us to a better result. It won’t be easy. It never is.
My hope is that he looks at several key areas that could represent a positive way to move us in the right direction. One area in particular deals with downtowns and their potential for development. Preservation of our historic building stock for mixed use development has real merit. It could alleviate many challenges particularly with housing, jobs, cost of vacant buildings, blight, and lost tax revenues. Earlier in this year, I published an account of the importance of preservation and what it means to a local community. I would like to refer back to that to emphasize my point.
“Most of the developed countries in the world have a major historic preservation component in their stimulus packages. Why? Jobs, job training, local impact, labor intensity, long term investment, etc.”
Preserve America and the HPTAG (Historic Preservation Technical Assistance Grant) program fund numerous historic preservation initiatives throughout the state and historic preservation creates jobs (something our state desperately needs at this time), brings vacant buildings back on the tax rolls and adds value and vitality to adjacent buildings and neighborhoods. For every one million dollars spent in manufacturing 23.9 jobs are created, for new construction it’s 30.6 jobs and for the rehabilitation of historic buildings its 35.4 jobs. Historic buildings and places attract heritage tourists who stay longer and spend more money per day than other types of tourists.
How does this affect Waterbury? Downtown Waterbury currently has building facades under improvement in the context of historic preservation. One building has already been fully converted to a mixed-use development and the next building, Apothecaries Hall, is now underway. This means and will continue to mean more jobs, primarily local jobs, and an economic benefit to the local community as these vacant buildings become economically viable once again. These projects cannot be done without the benefit of programs such as Preserve America and the HPTAG program. This is an area that could benefit the State in so many ways. Let’s hope Gov. Malloy sees it that way as well.
How about Transit Based Development? I’ve talked about it many times in this column but it needs to be continually reiterated. If we are truly serious about increased residential density in Downtown Waterbury, we need to also get truly serious about improved transportation options. This includes rail and it includes more efficient and convenient bus transportation. All of our downtown experts tell us that increased residential density with more “market-rate” apartments is a recipe for success. As we bring more and more young professionals and others to live downtown, it is imperative that we provide them with numerous transit options. We hear this constantly from developers, existing downtown residents, and those who are seeking jobs where the jobs are ie. Fairfield County, but living economically in Waterbury. Cars should not be their only option. To achieve this however, we need certain organizations and the state to embrace this. Connecticut’s Department of Transportation comes to mind. With them on board as our partner, we can achieve great things for Downtown Waterbury. Let’s hope that Gov. Malloy also sees this opportunity as well. In order for us to be successful with our plans for building conversion, preservation and rehabilitation, we’ll need real cooperation, and an environment that fosters a facilitating attitude regarding state and local permitting processes, inspections, and building codes without compromising safety. What seems to be administered with ease in states like New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, New York, and many mid- western States often seems to be a cumbersome, restrictive, territorial, penalizing, time consuming, gut wrenching, colossal pain in the butt here in the Nutmeg State. With the type of adaptive reuse that we advocate, our current permitting and approval process in CT is a “non-starter” for many developers and investors. Why would they put themselves through the hassle when they can go to other states where they are welcomed with open arms? I’m hopeful that Dan Malloy will work hard to break down our internal barriers and create an environment that promotes and recruits business and development.
Finally, there is not a downtown that I can think of that doesn’t have some measure of cultural venues such as museums, theaters, and other related destinations. All would be classified as tourist attractions. Tourism represents a significant industry to the State of Connecticut which creates jobs, brings in people from out of the State to downtowns where they can spend their money on entertainment, hotels, restaurants etc.
Yet we continually raid the State tourism budget to the point of no funds for any effective marketing beyond our borders. This to me is a gross miscalculation of our potential. The overwhelming payback ratio is never considered yet it represents such a positive impact to our economy. The best part of all is that our tourism attractions are already existing assets. All we have to do is effectively tell people about them.
I’m hoping Gov. Malloy will see the merits in an effective tourism marketing plan to bring people into Connecticut so they can spend their money. If you are interested in helping us out in our efforts to revitalize downtown Waterbury, please contact me at 203-757-0701 ext. 302 or email me at email@example.com