"We needed some format of what Meriden is going to be," said Wayne D'Amico, operations and projects manager for MERG.
BL Cos. Project Manager Geoffrey Fitzgerald said the key elements that need to be addressed to give the downtown area a chance to generate new business and residential areas are flood control and transportation issues. To that end, Fitzgerald presented a three-step plan to remedy those concerns. He said each step could be accomplished independently of the others.
The first phase is the retooling of the one-way traffic circle on West Main Street. The circle would be eliminated in lieu of two four-way intersections on East Main Street. In addition, traffic on Hanover Street would become two-way. This retooling would include the creation of a five-acre green and a $7.5 million, 500-car parking garage close to Colony Street. Fitzgerald estimates that this is the least costly part of the project, with a price tag of $1.5 million. The empty Hub, a structure quickly becoming an eyesore, would be ripped down to make way for this and other aspects of the plan.
"It is important to incorporate dramatic public spaces into the plan. Public greens are important elements to making places like Meriden livable," Fitzgerald said, pointing out that people living and working downtown improves the overall public safety.
Fitzgerald said the second phase of the plan would reroute State Street from the I-691 interchange farther to the east, heading down Cedar Street, crossing Pratt Street to hook up with Catlin Street. The Mills Memorial Apartments and part of the Park Side Apartments would be demolished to make way for the new street, which was envisioned as a tree-lined esplanade. The current location of State Street, which runs along the railroad tracks, would be erased. This aspect of the plan could cost around $15 million. "This would allow for a nice connection from 691 to the downtown," Fitzgerald said.
Once the street is extended, Fitzgerald planned for mixed-use buildings to
line the street, creating the final phase of the project. "Meriden's downtown should truly be the heart of the city," Fitzgerald said.
However, he doesn't support the entry of big-box stores into his plan. "According to our market studies, there is a market for a big-box store, but that would really hurt the downtown on a lot of levels, because it wouldn't allow smaller businesses to grow and take root," Fitzgerald said.
The next step is for the plan to be presented to city officials, D'Amico said, so they can start the process of determining what aspects of it they believe are politically and economically feasible.
Although a few of the people who viewed the plan asked pointed, somewhat skeptical questions, there were no apparent naysayers in the crowd. "The city is not a static situation, it is a dynamic one," said Philip Ashton, chairman of the city's flood control agency. "We have 30 years of experience that says what's currently there is not attracting much," D'Amico said.
"We have an opportunity to redo the economic and social character of the city. Some folks are up for it and some are not," said City Councilor Michael S. Rohde.