Meriden Made
I’ll keep it short today. Because I had off from work and don’t have my laptop at home, no blog post. I do have some items the next few days though. In the mean time, enjoy this picture of Xander and I. We spent the day together because he has the next few days off from school. Hope everybody enjoyed their day at work!

I’ll keep it short today. Because I had off from work and don’t have my laptop at home, no blog post. I do have some items the next few days though. In the mean time, enjoy this picture of Xander and I. We spent the day together because he has the next few days off from school. Hope everybody enjoyed their day at work!

Replacing a City Staple

When you think of Meriden and symbols, Castle Craig probably sits at the top of the list. The traffic tower is probably two. The steamed cheeseburger might be number three.

But somewhere up there has to be City Hall and that infamous clock tower. The tower has been around for years. And years. And years.

Photo courtesy of Clem Kasinskas

Over 100 years to be exact. It was put up when the building was constructed in 1905-1907. It was renovated in the 1950s/60s, but for the most part it is the same. And old.

So, Larry Kendzior included the replacement of the tower in the capital improvement project fund. It’s a cost of $350,000, which is a much larger expense than most things that appear in that section of the budget. It came before the City Council Finance Committee last week and was briefly described, but it caught the ear of a few councilors.

$350,000 is a lot of money to spend on a project being described in a couple sentences or less, councilor Brian Daniels pointed out. While it’s a natural fit in that area of the city with the architecture there, it’s also expensive. Daniels asked what the alternatives were, but there were few. You could replace/renovate it or your could remove it altogether with the cost not really known. Or you could look for a cheaper solution.

The city spent thousands of dollars on it a little less than 10 years ago, putting gold leaf on the top of the dome. It was real gold from a place in Italy, one of the only places where the gold leaf can be found. That said, it is something done all around New England, Kendzior noted.

Curious, I asked if we could go up there and see it. Pietro Galluzzo, better known as Peter around City Hall, took us up there. He supervises the building maintenance in the City Hall and is quite the handyman and knowledgeable about just about anything maintenance-wise.

I had no idea how to get up to the roof of City Hall. Turns out, it’s not at all complicated. There’s a room in City Hall at the end of a hallway that’s a typical office. The office just so happens to have a door that leads up to another level. Walk up those stairs and there’s an attic-like room with a series of steps that lead to nowhere. But the nowhere is actually a window that Galluzzo easily removed and out we went on a cooler, very rainy, day.

I didn’t initially spot this massive piece of architecture, but there it was. And it really is massive when you see it up close. Also prevalent is the damage to the tower from weather and age.

It’s not an easy thing to take a picture of. You only have so much room between the tower and the white railing that lines the roof. The roof also isn’t flat, which you expect it to be from the street. It’s slanted and has a rubbery-type membrane for weather reasons.

On this day, a rainy one, it was pretty wet.

Of course that didn’t stop Galluzzo and photographer Dave Zajac from taking a walk up there.

Before we went down, I had to get a couple pictures of the area. In addition to rain, it was cloudy and you can’t see the Hanging Hills all too well. It would’ve been great on a sunny day, but no such luck.

You also don’t realize how high off the ground that railing is. At eye level, you have to look through it.

And one more before we headed back inside…

As cool as it was from outside, Galluzzo seemed anxious to show us the inside. It was like stepping into a time warp.

From the room you enter where the window is, there’s a “staircase.” That case of stairs is actually an old wooden ladder with a railing to kind of walk up on. It’s dark and then you head up another ladder. Again, dark, but this is what it’s like looking up.

When you get to this level, you’re met with this:

Every hour, on the hour, that thing rings. We timed it pretty well, meeting up around 10:20 a.m. so we didn’t get stuck in there with the ringing. Galluzzo told us it’s loud and you don’t want to be around for it. I believe it. We actually just missed it by a minute or two.

That previous ladder was steep and it certainly seemed like it was built in 1907. You think it’s going to break, but alas, here I am typing this.

Now the next ladder, that had me nervous. I hate heights and the ladder is constructed OVER the opening of the previous ladder. If this breaks, you have a made-for-movies type-moment where you plummet down a few flights through the wood.

Made it up there again though. At this point, it’s bright. You’re inside the actual clock and it’s translucent. Up here it’s like a whole different world.

All sorts of dates were sketched into the wall to mark when the tower was checked. And apparently there’s a magic switch to turn the clock off.

Then there was another ladder, also built over the opening, that lead to the dome. There was a slight leak with water dripping and the plastic bag diverts it. At the bottom, you can see the other ladder.

With the wind howling and the rain pouring down, it wasn’t in our best interest to go up there. So the three of us stood in this small space and talked about the tower and its history.

One of the most important pieces of the history is the machine that runs the clock. Saved from the 1904 fire that burned down City Hall before the new one was constructed, was a piece of machinery. The machine turns the gears to make the clock run. It’s not electrically run, but still impressive, nonetheless. Galluzzo said that the clock can only spring forward, so when it’s time to “fall back” an hour, it has to go through the entire clock, which means ringing the bell.

There’s no obvious date on there, but it clearly dates back to the early 1900s if not the late 1800s. But it’s still working just fine.

We spent maybe 15 minutes in the room, while Dave took some photos. The light in there was impressive and I can’t imagine what it’s like on a sunny, clear day.

We climbed back down, carefully, and made our way out. As we hit the final steps, the bell chimed marking it as 11 o’clock.

For now, it’s not known what will happen with the tower. It will be renovated or removed. My money is on it being renovated, but something has to happen because the wood is clearly rotted. The money will stay in the CIP fund and either be allocated differently or specifically for the clock tower. We will see, but it was a pretty cool experience and piece of history very few get to see.

The Gateway to Downtown

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Photo Credit: Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

Getting downtown

There’s probably few less-inviting ways of getting into a city’s downtown than what Meriden has right now for those getting off Interstate 691 West at the State Street exit.

You pull off the exit, head down a ramp and to a stop sign. Depending on the day, the stop sign might be in OK shape, or slanted. The Welcome to Meriden sign had fallen down a few months back and for a long period of time lay in the bushes.

You turn to the left and head under a bridge. The bridge covers four lanes, I believe, and so it’s a pretty good-sized bridge. And it’s dark. You look to the left and for a while there was graffiti that read “End the Fed.”

Attractive.

Before you get there though, at the stop sign, you stare at a little-used rail yard that is more-or-less exactly how you would expect a little-used rail yard to look. Not good.

After the bridge you hit a couple factory-type buildings. Every time I drive by people are on some type of break and hanging out in the area. I don’t have any issue with people being on their break, it’s just not how one envisions entering a downtown.

Then you have to cross Camp Street where traffic stops on the opposite side and left side of you but not on the right side. No, instead, those people come flying over a hill so you are typically inclined to put the pedal to the floor.

Assuming you’ve made it this far (both in my long explanation and in your journey) you get to see Mills Memorial Apartments that mostly anybody would say needs to be ripped down and then the (until now) little-used Hub site.

I won’t do what I just did for what happens if you get off the “downtown” exit on Columbia Street in Meriden off I-691 heading east, but the point is, you won’t hit downtown very easily. In fact, very few in Meriden will say they know what Columbia Street is. But you have to go quite a ways to fine what is typically considered “downtown Meriden” and you don’t see any immediate signs of downtown, either.

City Center

A few years back, Meriden had this genius plan of re-working highway exits and getting people right off into downtown. It was called the City Center Initiative and, if you want a Throwback Thursday-type moment on Monday (when I’m writing this), then check out the website. Is the city still paying for the domain name?

Anyway, Bob Bass came up with a simpler, less costly plan: change the highway signs. That’s right. Tell people, “No, this isn’t the downtown exit, this is.” It’s kind of a genius plan. I mean, if you’re coming out of town and wanted to get off in a downtown, wouldn’t you just look for the sign that said “downtown?”

And if there were a bunch of signs after that, which is what is planned, you’d have no problem finding it pretty quickly. Since this plan was suggested a few years back, I often take the suggested Broad Street exit to get into downtown. I follow Pratt street, as suggested, and follow it to downtown.

My route

Confession: I prefer this method. Pratt Street has its issues, of course. You hit a weird jog/turn coming off Broad onto Camp and onto Pratt. It’s more of a turn than you anticipate and you take it with more speed than expected because of the four lanes that could probably fit a fifth or sixth. Associate City Engineer Howard Weissberg once laughed saying you could land a plane on Pratt Street, but I’m pretty sure you could. It’s wide.

But as you come down Pratt Street, the width kind of makes it appealing. And you quickly see the potential. Get rid of that parking lot on the left and put some nice housing or something there. Fix those places up on the right and there you go. Take down the Mills and you can see that new park nearly the entire way down Pratt Street. Put in a boulevard, a shared-use type lane, it could look quite nice.

And this entrance, or gateway, works if you’re heading east or west on 691. The increased traffic could really bring the street back to life, rather than people speeding at 50 mph down it.

What could go wrong?

Obviously money is a factor here and could be an issue. The other? Technology. Go ahead and Google Map/directions anywhere into a downtown Meriden location. It sends you off the State Street/Columbia Street exits. And if people are coming to Meriden who don’t know the area, they are going to Google it. At least, that’s what my generation does: they Google. They are less likely to look at signs in trying to navigate and instead will listen to Siri or whomever else explain where to go.

Right now anybody knows the easy way to go is off State or Columbia if you know how to get to downtown Meriden. It’s generally quicker and puts you down there already. But if you liven Pratt Street, it might send more people who know the area down Pratt Street because they will be more interested in the street. Maybe not. Maybe people will just go with the quicker alternative. Unless, of course, they close off Pratt Street at a certain area. Then does Google Maps make the same suggestion? Can Google Maps be told something else is the best route? There’s probably a process.

The point is, that stuff can be figured out. Technology can likely be beat, after all, we are smarter than computers, I think. But the real point is that improvements are being made little by little, including to this street where you can land a plane. But if you’re going to land a plan: A. let me know first and B. do it soon because changes are coming.

The $400,000 slip-up

Man, if I had a nickel for every $400,000 slip-up I had in my lifetime. Well, I wouldn’t have any nickels probably. But that’s beside the point because I’ve never been in the position to make such an error.

But to many, $400,000 is a lot of money. In the grand scheme of things, it represents less than .5% of the full Maloney High School renovation project.

Nonetheless, the architects with Fletcher Thompson came to the city’s School Building Committee last night to inform them of a $400,000 boo-boo they might have made.

That’s a pretty big boo-boo.

The long-and-short of it is that six different mistakes were made - SIX - that will result in an extra $400,000 needed to fix the mistake. There are forgotten columns, a retaining wall that needs to be moved, beams that are too short, columns that were too small to support the weight of a floor, another missing column, and a classification.

Why was the mistake made? One person at Fletcher Thompson drew them up. Nobody else at the company looked at them. A “third party” looked at them and who knows how carefully.

I won’t sit here and revisit past school building projects. OK, maybe I will. Lincoln MS, opened a little later than expected. Thomas Edison opened late - shorting me a year from the school (not that I still hold that grudge - and went over budget. John Barry and Ben Franklin have their own issues. Oh, and the bidding on both Maloney and Platt were over budget.

But hey, who’s keeping track?

Through covering these projects, I’ve heard countless times the term “on time and under budget.” As in the project will be completed on time and under budget, under budget after the project was scaled back through value engineering, of course. Don’t take my word for the scaling back, of course, I can source that to a dozen or so people. It’s essentially substituting some materials with different materials. Are they of lesser quality? You be the judge, but wouldn’t you use the less expensive materials to begin with?

OK, I’m not building expert. But omitting those items seems like a pretty big mistake. Maybe a bigger mistake was not reviewing pieces of the project more closely because now it is going to cost somebody.

Who is the somebody? Most would assume the one who made the mistake, but not necessarily. Angela Cahill, a project manager, said the company has insurance that only covers a portion. The rest of the cost will be paid from elsewhere. Don’t ask the city to pay for more though, Finance Committee Chairman Steve Iovanna already tweeted it wouldn’t be through his committee.

The School Building Committee is charged with having oversight on the project. But they aren’t all building officials that know the construction industry like the back of their hand. They look to staff and the hired consultants to help them out. There is a program manager hired to work on behalf of the city for the project. And let’s not forget, mistakes happen. This isn’t the first issue the Maloney project has had, however.

I won’t run down those here. No, really, I’ll save that.

It’s only been 24 hours since the meeting, but the feedback I’ve gotten on social media, calls, etc. is pretty clear - nobody from the city is very happy about this and they aren’t ready to pay up.

The steamed cheeseburger

I waited all day for this entry. I started this morning, looked at the potential pictures, got hungry and decided it was best to wait until right before I eat. So this is the last thing I’m doing today before I go home for dinner.

The Hartford Courant had a write-up about steamed cheeseburgers that you can read about here.

In Meriden, the steamed cheeseburger is a delicacy. You don’t go to the average restaurant and get a cheeseburger. If you can get it steamed, you get it steamed. That’s just the way it is.

I won’t go into the history. You can read about it here.

People outside of Meriden don’t know what a steamed cheeseburger is. If they have heard of it, they immediately question why it’s so good. The answer: The cheese is fantastic, the burgers are delicious. It’s just well-done and these are small businesses that try to do it right.

Anyway, the article is about some people who went around eating at three restaurants, including one I had no idea existed because it’s in Wallingford. Maybe I will have to try it.

I’ve had Teds. Teds is good. I’ve had K. Lamay’s. K. Lamay’s is good. Of course I’m underselling them, but you can’t go wrong with either. Those are the two major ones in Meriden that people like to talk about and debate which is better. In New Haven people argue Pepe’s and Sally’s and Modern. In Meriden they argue burgers.

Of course there are other options though. I saw somebody write on Facebook the other day that Alan’s Cup n’ Saucer was good, which peaked my interest. A lot of people like Lunch Box as an alternative. I’ve had it once, but it was pretty good. Then Quality Time is another option and a relatively quick one if you go to Ted’s and there isn’t enough seating. My personal choice of food at Quality Time, however, is the steamed cheeseburger nachos. There is a rumor, that I haven’t confirmed, they were the idea of DTC Chairwoman Millie Torres-Ferguson, but again, only rumors for now.

Why is Meriden so big on steamed cheeseburgers? I’m not sure. It’s just something that was created here and lasted here. In Meriden you can get a burgers and pizza. People ask for other restaurants, personally though, pizza and burgers is fine for me.

I’m not sure there’s a point to this post, hopefully you will find it or it will encourage you to go eat at one of the local places if you haven’t tried them already. They are worth your time. In the mean time, I’m going to go have dinner.

The “Fools” Strike Back

Another Monday. Another City Council meeting. The same group of “fools.”

That’s right, Meriden, you’ve got a bunch of fools running the city.

Or so Steve Iovanna says.

Recommendations Rejected

I’ll get to the point. Mayor Manny Santos made some recommended appointments for the second straight/third straight council meeting. And three that are being viewed as “political decisions” were rejected.

Why are they considered political? Because of the people involved. Bill Kroll, chairman of the Building Code Board of Appeals is being removed. Bruce Burchsted, a business owner at Prentis Printing is being removed. David White, of the Planning Commission, is being removed.

Kroll and Burchsted are Santos’ choices. White is the choice of the Democrats who are playing hardball right back and essentially saying “Oh, you’re not going to approve the people we want? Well, then we are taking off somebody who has been on his board for a long period of time as a way of getting back at you guys. Ha.”

Or something like that.

Making the Sausage

As Iovanna said, this is how the sausage is made and it’s being made in front of the public. Because it’s being done in the public, it’s making for an interesting battle and neither side wants to look like idiots so they have no desire to budge.

Again, Manny has a point. He makes recommendations. The council can let them go through or they can reject. The majority rejected. But, in the end, it’s his job to make appointments.

Then again, what have Burchsted and Kroll done wrong? Kroll is chairman, meaning the rest of the board thinks highly of him, democrat, republican or unaffiliated. Burchsted is somebody invested in the city’s downtown, you’d think you wouldn’t want to upset a guy who owns a business in downtown. But hey, what do I know?

The truth is, it’s all a political game. Both sides have their points and they have dug themselves in on these. In the end, Santos will just make a third round of recommendations. They will be rejected because they won’t include who the Democrats want and then they have to pick from one of the three. Manny will probably say “I told you so” and that will be that.

What’s next?

Well, that will be that until Ray Gradwell’s name comes through. The chairman of Public Utilities is also not recommended to be reappointed. So that will be an issue. And there will be others further down the line, I’m sure. That’s the way it works these days.

Now if Manny gives on this situation, what happens? He looks weak because he gave in to the Democrats that have controlled the city for 30 years.

What if the majority gives in? Well, now they are giving in to somebody many of them feel is doing a horrible job in his role as mayor and who some think is just acting as an obstructionist.

Again, you don’t always want to watch the sausage be made because it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s pretty petty stuff in this situation. I’ve had Meriden residents say they’re embarrassed by it. I’ve had people say the mayor is stupid. I’ve had people say the council is stupid. I’ve had people ask “What the hell is the big deal?”

What’s the big deal?

Well, because you asked, the big deal is both sides think they’re right and both sides will go down swinging if they have to no matter what it means to how they are being perceived.

Brian Daniels gets heavily involved in some issues and others he lets the others do the fighting. But he made an interesting point Monday night, essentially saying: If somebody is interested in volunteering in their community and they see this, why would they want to still get involved?

Just think, you could have your name dragged through the mud when it comes up for reappointment because, despite being a help to a board or commission or whatever else, somebody thinks it’s time to get rid of you. In this case, both the mayor and the majority vote are saying the same thing.

It’s pretty impressive, really. Meriden will get a new park, train station, the Mills plan is moving forward, other things are going on, and then there’s this sideshow to keep you distracted until everything is in place.

It’s only $100,000, right?

I got out of my Jeep the other day, phone, keys and a large packet of papers in hand. I went to adjust how I was holding them and I lost my grip on my phone. Down it went, onto the pavement. And there went the screen.

Crack.

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Told you.

"Man, my day sucks," I thought.

Keep in mind nothing else terrible really happened. But when something like that happens to you, it’s generally your first thought.

When I sat down at my desk a few minutes later, I realized my day was looking pretty good. I had received an email from former RJ reporter Dan Ivers with a link about a person who filled out his NCAA Basketball Tournament Bracket. He was in 4th place and had UConn winning it all.

Or so he thought.

Corey Johnson’s pick hadn’t saved properly. So he was in fourth, but no chance of winning or finishing in the top 20. The top 20 is key because it paid out $100,000.

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Wow.

How is that even possible? I mean, somebody has to win and finish in the top 20. But you’ve got to be crazy to pick UConn in Kentucky in the finals, right? Wrong. Corey explained it, basically saying he picked UConn because he was a fan, despite them losing to a team like Houston earlier this year and being manhandled by Louisville.

Picking Kentucky? Well, that was just to get another unlikely team in there. Kentucky always has talent though. They were peaking later in the season. They are well coached. So it made some sense.

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In Ivers’ email, it mentioned he was a Meriden resident. We have some mutual friends and I found him on Facebook. I asked him if we could do a story and he was more than accommodating. I went right over to his brother’s house and talked with him.

It’s hard not to feel bad for him. He had already been made fun of on Deadspin.

His friend was listing off websites that had written stories about him, too.

Fox Sports.

USA Today.

Bleacher Report.

The list went on.

He’s hearing about it on Facebook. He’s getting texted. Called. Everything. It’s hard not to laugh imagining what might have been. He laughed himself. But you know it’s also on his mind.

Friends have already started a petition

I talked to him before the game. I can only imagine what has gone through his head since then. I mean, it’s great, his team won a championship. Now only if his last selection had gone through properly.

Paid off tuition. Paid off debt. A house down payment.

Instead, he told me he might just buy some rope and hang himself. He said it laughing, of course. From everybody who has texted me or messaged me since, they all said it couldn’t happen to a kid with a bigger heart and somebody who truly deserved it.

Every year I fill out a bracket. I’ve been doing it since 2001 when I was in 7th grade. I did it against my dad and for a couple years we would fill it out and make a wager.

In the first year, I picked Arizona to win it all. He picked Duke. In a twist of fate, we were tied going into the finals and those two teams played. Duke won. I lost.

The next year I picked Maryland to win it all. They did.

I always do pretty well in the tournament. But I’ll never pick UConn, Syracuse or Duke to win. Too many people in the area pick UConn and it hurts my odds. And Syracuse and Duke haven’t fared too great in recent years, often losing pretty early on.

I picked Kentucky correctly a few years ago. I picked Memphis the year they lost to Kansas in the finals. I always like John Calipari teams, but they can never ht free throws and it really hurts them. We saw that last night.

I picked Michigan State to win the year they lost to North Carolina in the finals.

But 2007 was my closest to Corey’s, which made me think how crazy it was for him to be in 4th place when he was. My bracket wasn’t too far from perfect. I picked the championship, finals and Final 4 correctly. I had 7/8 in the Elite 8. I had 14/16 in the Sweet 16. It was unheard of.

I had entered my bracket into the Facebook competition that year. It was among the few years Facebook hosted it on their page. I finished the best at my school and somewhere in the top 10 on all of Facebook that year.

For the record, it was Florida that won it all. Ohio State had faced them with Greg Oden. It feels like a million years ago at this point.

To say I studied was an understatement. I worked at ESPN at the time and entered play-by-play stats into the computer so people could follow in real-time. I would watch about a dozen college basketball games a week. I have no idea how many I watched during the year, but all of the major conferences and top teams. I knew the strengths and weaknesses of each and what teams had the formula to win it all.

That year, it was almost easy to pick the winner and teams to do well when you compare it to this year. To pick a 7 and 8 seed in the finals is ridiculous. For it to happen, insane.

So putting Corey’s bracket into perspective, it’s just crazy he finished where did. Of course, that doesn’t pay anything, unfortunately.

Well, at least he can celebrate a fourth national championship for UConn.

Because they’re happy

This was a nice little video that the faculty at Casimir Pulaski School did recently. The staff danced to Pharrell’s song “Happy,” which is just something fairly simple, yet enjoyable. It shows some camaraderie, enjoyment of what they’re doing and just overall teamwork at the school.

You can read more about what went into the video here and view it below.

The song is featured in Despicable Me 2, so I had known about the song before it really blew up and my son likes to watch the video and people dancing. So, I’m sure the kids will love watching this even more and seeing their favorite teachers.

Good stuff.

Two for the price of…

I said I’d do it yesterday. I was a day off.

And this won’t be a long one, but it’s more of a tip, really.

I went to pick up my son at school today. He is at Mount Carmel on Lewis Avenue. I was on the east side. So, like anybody with knowledge of Meriden’s road system, I hopped on I-691, headed west and got off at the Lewis Avenue exit and went to take a right.

I had the right idea and wrong plan, apparently.

This is going on.

The bridge(s) that run over Lewis Avenue from I-691 are being replaced by the state DOT. It’s a project that will be going on into October. Apparently that section of Lewis Avenue could periodically be closed, as well.

Today, keep in mind there are three lanes heading south (toward West Main) and then one headed north. Of the three southbound lanes, two to the right were closed. So all traffic headed onto I691 East or headed south on Lewis were forced to combine to one. Nonetheless just getting off I691 and heading south was an issue in it of itself and that’s only a stop sign. Then I had to wait while everybody figured it out the situation.

Shortly after pieces of material from the bottom of a bridge over I-91 fell onto the road below, we did a story about bridges with structural deficiencies. In Meriden there are three: Cooper Street bridge, Center Street bridge and, you guessed it, the I691 bridge over Lewis Avenue.

Now it should be noted just because it’s “structurally deficient” it doesn’t mean the bridge is suddenly collapse. I mean, I hope not. At least I was hoping that was the case as I sat in my vehicle underneath the bridge.

So, whatever I just said, it’s just a recommendation to avoid the area when possible and to know there’s some work that’ll be ongoing for a few months. But hey, at least that bridge won’t fall on you.

Hi Dan, I don't have a question but just wanted to comment on the blog. As a Meriden native now living in Boston, I like to keep up on the happenings in Meriden as most of my family still lives there. Your writing gives a bit more food for thought than a standard "breaking news" type article; the speculation/analysis is enjoyable. Also, the coverage of downtown changes is good. I'd be hyped if Meriden had more life at nights, along with more foot traffic. Keep up the good work. -Andy Esposito
Anonymous

Thanks for sending this my way. It means a lot that you and others from around the country have reached out. What you said is what I’m trying to do with the blog: make it a place for added news, for things to make you think, for additional coverage, and for coverage that only certain Meridenites would be interested in. So far, it seems to be going well. Thanks again.

Un-Tangering the outlet situation

My first thought was, “Wow, this looks nice.” My second thought was, “Oh boy, Meriden could be in some trouble.”

Specifically, the Meriden Westfield Mall.

There is a plan in Cheshire right now to build this outdoor outlet center in Cheshire. By my count, it would be two exits away from the Meriden Square Westfield Mall.

Now bare with me, because this is just me speculating off the top of my head. I’m not an expert in retail. Or malls. But I know a potential concern when I see it.

The Meriden mall (which is how I’m going to refer to it for now), I’ve never had much of a problem with. It’s the mall I grew up with and it always had the stores to suite my needs. That said, I need all of like 3-4 stores to suite my needs. Right now, I get clothes at American Eagle and Macy’s, I can find a store for sneakers and shoes, I like Best Buy, I use Dick’s for my sporting goods needs, and then there are stores for my kid’s clothes and whatnot.

So, for me, the mall is fine. But I don’t shop once a day or once a week. I find myself there, at most, once a month. Unless it’s Christmastime. Then I’m there like every other day.

So while I’m no expert, I know there are bigger concerns about the Meriden Mall. For one, JC Penney is closing. Nobody is sure what is going there, but boy do people have their opinions. On a national level, it’s no secret Sears is struggling and Macy’s isn’t doing great. Oh, btw, both are at the Meriden Mall.

I think just about any mall will have some turnover in it. Meriden’s certainly does. So some people complain that the stores always change, well, there is probably some demand to get places out of there or in there. A TJ Maxx is going in and opening very soon in place of Borders, which is part of a dying breed (in print, anyway). People want more restaurants, according to that Facebook link, but then you have to figure out where to put them in the mall and figure out if they are actually sustainable. Fun fact: For years, Meriden’s zoning prevented another restaurant that sells alcohol from opening in the mall. Some have tossed around the idea of a cinema, even an upscale cinema.

Now, the Meriden Mall accounts for something like a bajillion dollars in taxes in Meriden. OK, maybe not that much. But two LLCs (limited liability companies - thank you, real estate law classes at Southern CT State) fall into the top 10 taxpayers in the city. If the mall ever goes this way, the city is in trouble.

In steps the Tanger outlets. People freakin’ love outlets. Especially in nice weather. But they don’t always go there because of distance. The nearest are Clinton and Westbrook. It works similarly with Westfarms Mall. It’s nice, it’s just, is it worth the 20-30 minute drive if you’re just looking for a few things?

Same question holds true for the outlets. Now, if the outlets are built in Cheshire in late 2015, right where Cheshire and Southington meet and Meriden isn’t all that far off, and I-84 isn’t but an exit away…well, you get it. Like I said, my initial thought is that the Meriden mall is doomed. Then again, maybe not. Westfield doesn’t continue to get stores in the Meriden Mall without customers. And these Cheshire outlets don’t get built unless things are looking up. They weren’t built for years because of a down economy and they likely don’t get built unless they feel there is enough disposable income in the area.

Do the new outlets take some business from the Meriden Mall? I would assume so. Can the Meriden Mall afford to lose business? Probably not a lot. How do Meriden’s downtown plans fit in? Well, some argue the Mall was the reason downtown went downhill like it did (in addition to other things), well does a significantly improved downtown change that? Probably not.

Sorry, there are a lot of questions. There are very few real answers at this point. But to say that there aren’t some concerns for Meriden would be naive.

The Reserve

I figure it’s about time to update this thing. In fact, if you’re lucky, I might do it twice today for neglecting my duties two days in a row. Well, usually I update it on days I’m working and I wasn’t working yesterday and Monday was relatively busy so I didn’t have time.

And I would almost prefer to do these things at home, but my laptop at home no longer functions very well, my iPad is not great for typing on and I usually don’t bring my work laptop home.

Also, when they run your face on the front cover of the paper, you should probably update it from time to time.

But I digress…

Photo courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

This is the third time in maybe two-three years that the property at 16 Colony St. has tried to reinvent itself. There have been different owners and managers. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to make this place the place to go.

Since the days of The Vault in the mid-to-late 1990s, it just hasn’t been the place, unfortunately. Night club after night club, it just hasn’t worked.

But why?

Well, you’re probably asking the wrong guy for this one. I’m not one for the club setting. Maybe that’s the reason though. Maybe there are fewer people, at least in this area, interested in that.

People from Hartford and New Haven probably aren’t coming here all that often. Why? Because they have plenty of places in Hartford and New Haven to go. You aren’t getting a large from Southington and Wallingford because both have their own separate downtowns. People who go to those places know they can go to a bar there, not have the pounding music and can enjoy a few drinks, maybe some food and then go to the next place if it’s not a great night.

So it’s probably time to abandon the night club idea, at least for a little while.

In steps The Reserve.

What’s different about this place? You can’t get a similar experience in 90 different locations within 20 minutes of each other. Sure, there are smaller music venues around the state, but if you can bring in a decent band or music group, then you will probably get a decent crowds. A lot of the local bands have fairly dedicated followings. So if you can get some good groups it could translate into a good amount of people.

Now as I sad, this is a very different venture. It’s something Meriden doesn’t normally have. Will it work? You’ve got to give it a little bit of time. That said, there are costs associated with doing business and that’s what likely caused the last two places to not make it. Thousands of dollars were invested in the place only to not work after just months.

What does this place have going for it? Well, for one, it’s a pretty cool building. It has the lounge-type area on the perimeter, a small stage and a decent-sized floor in the center. Even better, it has a second floor where you can look down from. And on the third floor, there is a separate section that could easily work as a bar of some sort.

The elephant in the room (that’s figuratively) is the lack of life in downtown at night. Will people with no other incentive make their way to downtown Meriden despite the perception the area has? Typically, I don’t think twice about walking around in downtown Meriden. That’s with a stabbing just up the street a few nights ago. But most will think twice. And having done it, there is something a little unsettling when you don’t see much else on the street - people or cars - at night. And the cars, should they see anything happen, can’t turn around to go back even if they wanted to because of one-way traffic.

The last two places that tried over there had stories written about them in the paper too. It was me who did it. The first time, Club Sinergee, I had no problem writing about it because it seemed like it was time for something in downtown. Quickly though, they didn’t get the audience they wanted and the place began going downhill.

Then it was Club Level. Most probably just assumed this was a re-incarceration of Sinergee and it failed. I decided to take the Dan Brechlin curse off of it and let somebody else do the story. OK, so there’s probably more than just me involved, but hopefully the third time (in recent memory) is a charm.

Your #FirstTweet

Believe it or not, there was a time before Twitter. Most people over the age of 30 probably remember the time fairly well, but some of us, like myself, often ask “What the hell did I do before Twitter?”

I guess the basic answer, as far as my web habits go, was to surf the web constantly and do a lot of reading. Now, I spend far more time skimming through Tweets to get my news. When links are interesting, I click on them.

I love Twitter. Love it. But it’s addicting. It has changed the way we think about news. It used to be that we could wait until the next day for news. Then we could wait a few hours. Now, if I hear something and it’s not on Twitter, I question the validity.

I, myself, spend plenty of time on Twitter. I have over 20,000 Tweets on my account since Nov. 19, 2010. That’s a lot. I think.

While many in the media have grown accustomed to Twitter, there are still plenty just getting used to it or learning. But more interesting now is how other people, other agencies are using Twitter. Some are effective, some aren’t. But I think learning Twitter can go a long way for people working for municipalities or politicians who know how to use it. That is, not just sending out some bland tweet about an event or something, but allowing yourself to have a personality. It also allows you to better connect with people in the event of emergencies, weather-related events, or for any other purpose.

Your online presence and your physical presence are quickly blending together and for many, it already has. Who you are online is who you are in person.

With all of that said, Twitter just turned 8. It can practically walk to the local park with its friends now. And with that, Twitter launched this pretty cool thing where you can see the first Tweet you ever sent. It came at an interesting time as City Manager Larry Kendzior and Economic Development Director Juliet Burelski each sent out their first tweets the other day. Milestone! Here’s my first tweet and some others with a Meriden twist.

Me: I went with the story approach. I started at the RJ at the very end of August 2010 and started the account in November. At the time, the RJ wasn’t doing much with Twitter. If you’re wondering about the story, at the time, there was concerns about a school budget shortfall. But it was made clear, eventually, schools wouldn’t close.

The Record-Journal: A similar approach a year and a half earlier.

Managing Editor Eric Cotton: A lot of people go this route. Hopefully he has learned how to use this thing. Just kidding, of course he has. Though he took some time off from it after creating it in 2009, I think.

Meriden Fire: Few accounts in the city are more beneficial than Meriden Fire. They often tweet about what is going on or how something happened the night before. Always informative.

Dan Brunet: He’s been an up-and-down user, but mostly down lately. But this was all the way back in the beginning of 2010, so kudos for starting early.

Steve Iovanna: He went motivational on the first Tweet. Steve tweets about projects he is working on for BL Companies, city issues, etc.

Larue Graham: Larue recently started his account and he’s still learning. But it’s nice to see another City Council presence on Twitter.

Kevin Scarpati: Another Republican who started early. Kevin tweets mostly about city-related items, unless the Yankees are playing.

Mark Benigni: This is how you start your Twitter account with a bang: announce students have the day off. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how many students saw it with the lack of RTs or favorites. Mark isn’t as technically-savvy as his students or his teachers, but the Meriden BOE has definitely embraced technology.

Rob Kosienski: It was a pretty simple first Tweet. Lots of BOE-type things from Robby.

Rob Montemurro: Probably my favorite Meriden follow on Twitter. School stuff. Sports stuff. Nardellis stuff. Anything, really. And all with a sense of humor and only the hippest lingo.

City of Meriden: Need Meriden information? Go here. Strong #firsttweet

Juliet Burdelski: As I said, Juliet issued her first Tweet this week. With no fear, she sent this.

And then there’s City Manager Larry Kendzior. Larry joined Twitter a few months ago, but only to monitor. His daughter, Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) is very well-known on Twitter with more than 20,000 followers. So this is a way for Larry to keep up with her and some other things going on.

Larry had told me at some point he prefers to be like Calvin Coolidge aka “Silent Cal.” A day or so later, Sarah had said the exact same thing about it, making me laugh. So I brought it up the other day on Twitter and got a response.

It wasn’t much. So Juliet responded:

And Larry had a response, showing a great deal of wit. Sometimes that takes time on Twitter.

Keep up the tweeting everybody!

Transitioning the Republican Party

The Republican Town Committee in Meriden is going through a change. That much is true. Former party Chairman Dan Brunet, also a city councilor and minorty leader of the council, is stepping down and Vice Chairwoman Liz Whitney has now taken over.

It was a different story to write. Beyond writing a typical story stating that “this is the new chairman, this is the old chairman,” we decided to take a look at the party. It’s no secret there’s a divide in the party. Anybody debating that, is not paying attention. It is up to Liz to bring that together now.

It’s hard to say why there are different groups within the party. There is the moderate vs. conservative theory, then there’s debate over who should be leading the party.

There is a lot I left out of the story that I spoke with RTC members about. Here, I will fill you in on more.

Long-term growth vs. growth right now

Dan Brunet could not be more clear: he wanted long-term, sustained growth. That meant slowly adding people to the town committee. People that worked on committees, who gave their time, attended meetings, and took an interest in the party.

Lenny Rich wanted to add about a dozen people to the town committee, many of which seemed to be jumping on the bandwagon and riding the wave. It does make some sense: get people on while the party is successful.

Len Suzio was adamant that you can’t let things be personal when it comes to this stuff. But of course, it will always be personal to some. One person did this or supported this person, so you have to get back at them. It’s just the way it works sometimes.

Slowly, Brunet managed to build a town committee. When he took on the role, I wasn’t working here, but Suzio described them as “morbid” times for the party. Others said it was almost dead. Brunet talked about few people even showing up to meetings.

Now, to the party’s credit, there are three elected city councilors, Suzio was elected for a term during a special election, and Manny Santos is the mayor. Some say it’s because the party is on the rise, others say the Democratic party isn’t doing enough. You can decide for yourself.

The transition

Just from talking to some, it was clear Dan Brunet was liked by some, not so much by others. Anna Neumon was among those who didn’t have much to say and said she didn’t have much close interaction with him. But she certainly gave credit to him for being in the position he is in and hopes he can focus on constituent things.

Toward the bottom of the story, you can see the comment from Neumon about the story. I spoke with her yesterday and she wanted to make some things clear. Now, I did speak with multiple people that said the same thing: she definitely had interest. Neumon, however, told me yesterday she has been saying ‘no’ all along. She has no interest and doesn’t have enough time for the job. Fair enough.

As far as the transition goes, there is expected to be one. And multiple people said it is up to Liz to bring the party together as best she can.

Here’s some outtakes:

Brunet: “She makes quick decisions she makes the right decisions…she’s inclusive of all different factions of the groups and different personalities of the group.”

Brunet, again, was very complimentary of her and seemed to really like her. For what it’s worth, Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Millie Torres-Ferguson also said she likes her and likes working with her. Millie has also been open about being able to work well with Dan and they get along well.

Brunet on his leaving: "I think I was the right person for the time…It was too much. My duties as minority leader have taken on a bigger role with a Republican mayor. We have big issues coming up in the near future with contract negotiations and how to better deliver services in the future."

He also talked about it being “somewhat unprecedented” with the number of positions he held.

Liz Whitney: “We had known and I had known he was going to be stepping down and I wanted to get acclimated to the position. It was a natural transition.”

"The town committee is here to support all of our elected officials. We are very appreciative of Dan in bringing us to the point where we are. Just like Manny Santos was the right man at the right time for the job, Dan was that too. We want to support him however we can and let him focus on his City Council responsibilities."

Lenny Rich: "I’m impressed with Liz, I think she earned it."

"We wanted to try to make it equal on both sides of the spectrum so both sides are heard."

"Do I agree with everyone?" No. But we’re family. It’s never always a smooth row…but we’re not going to be bullying or puppet-stringing like some people on the council."

Jim Belote: “I thought Dan did a very good job considering he was also on the council. For someone doing double duty, the party has advanced quite a bit.

"Liz has paid her dues and she will step right in and make a seamless move. I’m thrilled she took over…She’s a good communicator and there are occasionally different factions with Republicans or people more Democrat or whatever, but she does well with all types of groups."

Rob Kosienski:”Before Dan, the party was at one of its slowest and lowest points in years.”

"Dan created a wonderful atmosphere."

"The election of Liz Whitney was very promising…She’s a team builder and she’s a perfect face for the Republican party and the future and a hard worker. She’s not going to tolerate anyone who is out on their own to be a hero for their own agenda."

Anna Neumon: “(Liz) been a good worker from day one. She’s earned her way up. She’s good, especially with the younger folks.”

"I really didn’t have that much direct contact with (Dan). I never really had private conversations with him. We sort of kept our places and did what we have to do. There was always a concern about him having to be both the chairman and one the City Council. From my own perspective, I wouldn’t want to do that and yet he did…at this point it now gives him a golden opportunity to concentrate on the City Council and service constituents. I think it was a good move and I think Liz is ready to take over and she has a lot of support."

Anna, though directly not quoted, also said she urged people to put their support behind Whitney when others were trying to convince her to run for chairman.

Len Suzio: "I’m very encouraged by what I see happening. The entire RTC is rejuvenated or revived…It was morbid the last few years but now we have all 47 (seats) filled up with a waiting list. We haven’t seen that in ages. The numbers suggest the Republican party is coing back to life in Meriden which is a good thing for Meriden: to have a good, competitive, two-party system."

"Liz is a very hard worker." Len went on to talk about getting Liz involved with politics and her volunteering on his campaign in 2010.

"Dan has done a credible job. It’s a difficult situation and it was difficult because he was elected to the council and as town committee chairman…By nature, people in that position can’t be more aggressive in their public statements…I think Dan made the best of a tough situation."

"Sometimes there are personality differences that occur. People have to learn to set aside their differences for the greater good."

Kevin Scarpati: It’s quite evident there are two sides of the town committee right now. I don’t think this is the way we’re going to move the party forward.”

The grand finale

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I realize it’s a long blog post. But for one reason or another, the story played out as it did. Down the line, we will likely take another look at the party, see how Liz is doing, and see where the party is headed.

Yes, there were others I spoke to for the story that I just didn’t include on here. Guy Beeman, the vice chair, is among them.

You may be wondering why I put this all on here rather than in the story. The point of the story was to talk of the recent friction and to see what the transition is going to be like. But I felt there should also be a chance for people to see what those people in the story think of Liz, think of Dan and why the transition took place.

So I hope I did that.

And yes, in most stories, I have this long list of outtakes or notes that never see the light of day. Depending on how this goes, there may be a chance in the future to display some on here. I think it can add to stories or help tell additional stores. Or side stories. However you want to put it, I want to be able to tell more stories that may not play well in a newspaper, but can be told somewhere else.

Enjoy.

Something to share

I was just driving along Cook Avenue, turning onto Hanover Street and approaching the Record-Journal and ran into three red lights. THREE.

I’m not even sure how it is possible, but I did it. I’ve outline it in a very scientific diagram below:

There is a proposal to turn traffic to two-way and make plenty of other improvements. With that will come improved signal and a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

I’m all for pedestrian-friendly. I would prefer to walk from place-to-place in downtown and I always do when I have somewhere to go. Unless there’s a downpour or something like that.

For what it’s worth, the light to the left, I think, only turns red when somebody pushes a button. And it’s similar at the Senior Center. But to hit both of those and the other one when the train wasn’t coming seemed to be pretty impressive.

Don’t get me wrong. My day isn’t ruined. I was just as much amazed I could hit all three as I was slightly perturbed that I was in stop-and-go traffic with no actual traffic in the area.

Anyway, thought it’d be something quick and interesting to share.