NEW BRITAIN — Gerry Amodio, New Britain’s downtown district director, says CPA Justine Moriarty recently told him, “The revitalization of New Britain won’t come suddenly like dropping a bomb; it’s going to be like a shotgun — one pellet here, another pellet there.”
“That’s what’s happening,” says Amodio. “It’s a cupcake shop [Dulce Cupcake Cafe]; a sandwich shop [Café Beauregard]; the Mae Kong Thai Restaurant; Tavern on the Main. We’re seeing entrepreneurs cautiously taking a risk. Forget ‘Hardware City.’ We should call New Britain ‘Small Business City USA.’”
According to city business leaders, downtown New Britain is gradually and slowly growing. “Despite,” says Amodio, “what the business world might think of us.”
For owner-operators like Tavern on the Main’s Keith McDonald, opening a sports pub at this time in a city like New Britain is like a surfer amping in the impact zone.
In other words, he’s catching a big wave at the peak moment.
Timothy Stewart, president, Greater New Britain-Berlin Chamber of Commerce, agrees. He believes that commercial development is happening at just the right time and credits, in part, commercial developer, Avner Krohn.
“It’s great to have someone like Avner with a willingness to invest in the community,” Stewart says. Then, too the fact that CTfastrak is opening in March is, Stewart says, opportune.
“CTfastrak will attract people from Hartford, and justify further development and investment in downtown New Britain,” Stewart says. “The city came up with a downtown redevelopment plan eight years ago when the busway was pretty much a concept. We viewed it then as a mechanism to bring people into the area.”
To detractors who still call it “a busway to nowhere,” Lyle Wray, one of its visionaries, has an answer. The executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments, argued early on for a busway system connecting New Britain and Hartford.
In CT News Junkie, Wray writes that “connecting our region to faster growing economic centers and building a rapid transit network in the region are investments in the future that will help retain and attract the prized skilled 25- to 45-year-old demographic. We need to invest to connect, to compete, and to prove wrong the dire predictions of becoming a ‘cul de sac,’ and to move our economy forward.”
Amodio says downtown revitalization has been “spurred” by the busway. “Because of people like Mark Moriarty [New Britain’s director of public works], we’re getting a new Main Street bridge and money for Streetscape.”
Moriarty wrote a grant that secured $3 million for the pedestrian-friendly Streetscape plan. It caused Mayor Erin Stewart to call the project “one of many that will transform and energize our downtown area.”
“Nobody is going to visit a downtown that’s not appealing aesthetically,” says Timothy Stewart. “You can’t have garbage lying around; you’ll never get support for commercial development. So, Streetscape plays a significant role in cleaning up an area some people may perceive as ‘unpleasant.’”
He says local buses moving from Bank Street to Columbus Boulevard will make downtown a safer place to walk. Bike lanes are being added and sidewalks upgraded.
Timothy Stewart says the restructuring around the downtown CTfastrak station will help attract tenants to the Plaza Building and others.
“The more success the city has with downtown food places like Tavern, Riley’s [Hot Dog and Gourmet] and Café Beauregard, the more success we’ll have with commercial developers who are considering investing in the city,” he says.
Bill Carroll, business development director for the City of New Britain, says though Tavern on the Main may be the fourth restaurant in that downtown location, “there are entrepreneurs still willing to take a chance and move forward. I think that says a lot about New Britain.”
Timothy Stewart is also optimistic about the future of downtown.
“The key components are here,” he says. “A city like New Britain needs to be safe and it needs institutions. The challenge is to get these institutions to commit [to downtown]. CCSU [Central Connecticut State University] can play a big part. With the right development going into downtown we’ll put more feet on our streets.”
Scott Whipple can be reached at (860) 225-4601, ext. 5205, or email@example.com.