Monday, February 24, 2014 at 10:59AM
HARTFORD — New Britain Downtown District Director Gerry Amodio is excited about the Connecticut Main Street Center program.
“The future of downtown depends on whether people are willing to move back to the inner city and live here,” says Amodio, who applied for the award. “This state initiative is a bold step.”
New Britain is one of two Connecticut cities that will receive customized technical help to turn underutilized downtown buildings into residential housing above commercial space. Connecticut Main Street Center is an economic initiative that aims to bring the state’s commercial districts back to life socially and economically.
CMSC President and CEO John Simone said Friday that New Britain and Meriden had been chosen to participate in the second year of an innovative program, Come Home to Downtown.
Simone said the downtown revitalization organization chose New Britain and Meriden because both are focusing on transit-related issues.
“The state’s $1.5 billion investment in transit ensure[s] that areas around the bus and rail stations provide an interesting mix of housing, retail and other uses, a critical component of how we grow our town,” Simone said. “Many of the buildings surrounding transit stations are exactly like the ones we chose for this program — older, underutilized and full of potential.”
The Come Home to Downtown pilot program was created in partnership with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority in 2012 with an investment from the Community Investment Act. The program helps redevelop downtown properties by providing technical assistance and education.
During the first year of the program, CMSC worked with Middletown, Torrington and Waterbury to frame the challenges to mixed-use development. A report on CMSC’s findings from the first year was made available online so municipalities and property owners around the state could share the lessons learned.
“The Come Home to Downtown pilot program will help communities find ways to add housing in existing buildings, which will add value to the buildings, create more housing options in communities and more vibrant main streets,” said Eric Chatman, CHFA’s president and executive director.
CHFA contracted with CMSC for a second year of the program, during which CMSC will continue to work with property owners in the first three pilot communities as well as downtown stakeholders in Meriden and New Britain.
“Creating dynamic neighborhoods offers a tremendous economic payoff for the community; money spent downtown stays downtown,” said Simone.
(A study of downtowns in Iowa demonstrated that residents of each new apartment developed spent an additional $20,000 to $39,000 a year downtown.)
CMSC will work with the owners of a small downtown property, local officials and a team of downtown stakeholders in New Britain and Meriden to determine redevelopment options for creating residential units in the upper floors of the selected buildings. CMSC will also work with, and help develop, each city’s downtown organization or downtown action team to strengthen their capacity to promote and attract downtown redevelopment.
With CTfastrak (the rapid transit bus system) underway, an expansion of Central Connecticut State University in the downtown and a Bike Connectivity Plan recently implemented, the city is investing in neighborhoods with a variety of housing, retail and transportation choices. CMSC’s Come Home to Downtown efforts are expected to complement these initiatives; the Raphael Building chosen for the program is at 99 W. Main St. Owner Avner Krohn has already improved the façade and remodeled the ground floor into commercial space. He is seeking help in converting the upper floors to residential housing.
Krohn said he welcomes mixed-use real estate. It focuses on buildings with existing first-floor commercial uses and provides significant resources to help develop the upper floors into r residential space.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said she is pleased that a historic piece of downtown will be kept intact.
With CTfastrak coming in 2015, New Britain “will be a hub for transit-oriented development projects that will help spur growth downtown,” Stewart said. “The Come Home to Downtown project is key to that.”
Scott Whipple can be reached at (860) 225-4601, ext. 319 or firstname.lastname@example.org.