Friday
Feb032017

CCSU President confirms interest in the Plaza

NEW BRITAIN — Central Connecticut State University President Zulma Toro on Wednesday confirmed to students and faculty that the state is purchasing a prominent office building for development of a downtown campus.

In a morning email correspondence, Toro said the purchase of 233-235 Main St., known as The Plaza, will be acquired by the state and provided to the university without utilizing higher education funds.

“As a result, CCSU will receive all of the operational funding we are scheduled to receive from the state,” she wrote. “This is clearly a net gain for the university.”

Though the potential relocation of offices or departments from the Stanley Street campus is in the earliest of planning stages, Toro reports in her letter that a portion of the Institute of Technology & Business Development building at 185 Main St. will be relinquished to Charter Oak State College.

“Once Charter Oak has vacated its (Paul) Manafort Drive premises, the university will begin to operate it as a ‘welcome center,’ a long hoped-for and planned one-stop-shop for recruitment and enrollment and allied programs and services,” Toro stated.

Charter Oak is a public online college established in 1973. Its 14,364-square-foot building opposite the CCSU campus was dedicated in 1999.

Toro said the University Planning and Budget Committee is being directed to assemble ideas for the downtown building. She encouraged students and faculty to participate in the process and contribute to a series of focus groups that will be announced soon. Toro expects to receive a committee report no later than the end of the spring semester.

As first reported in The Herald, H.J. Development Group of New York, the owner of The Plaza, has been in discussions with the state Department of Administrative Services to sell the 75,000-square-foot, seven-story building for several years. The parties continue negotiations this week, according to sources.

City officials and downtown property owners for decades have longed for the development of a substantial CCSU presence in the central business district. Those hopes intensified with the introduction of the CTfastrak rapid-transit bus line, streetscape work and improvement projects.

Timothy Stewart, president of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce, called the proposal a welcome addition to the district’s landscape.

“We have tried for many years to convince CCSU to expand its presence downtown and it looks like we will finally have some additional feet on the street,” Stewart said on Wednesday. Plans to extract activity from the Stanley Street campus into the downtown area included the construction of an athletic arena complex and student housing when Stewart was mayor a decade ago.

The promise of renewed activity at arguably the most prominent building in downtown New Britain will prove to be one of the city’s most satisfying accomplishments in years, according to Gerry Amodio, executive director of the Downtown District.

“This is definitely a ‘wow’ moment,” Amodio said. “Dr. Toro is committed to engaging the community and this will be an incredible way for her to meet that goal. I don’t think it can be overstated the number of possibilities that open up with this move.”

Tommy Qoku, owner of Grand Pizza & Restaurant at 136 Main St., said the potential for hundreds more people in the downtown area will be a boost to him and the business community. “It is great for the city of New Britain,” Qoku said while making pizzas and entrees for the lunch crowd on Wednesday. “It’s obvious that whatever the mayor (Erin Stewart) is doing is working because this is becoming the place to be. It’s incredible news.”

Christopher Fortier can be reached at 860-801-5063 or cfortier@newbritainherald.com.

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