Meriden Made

Jul 22

The unaffiliated

I wasn’t surprised to see City Councilor Kevin Scarpati become unaffiliated. The former Republican made the change Friday and it took effect for Monday’s council meeting.

Many weren’t surprised. Some questioned whether it would ever happen.

Things seemed to be sailing smoothly during Scarpati’s first two years on the council. The change of Manny Santos as mayor and councilor Lenny Rich did shake things up in the city though. Scarpati wasn’t completely on board with things at that first council meeting and things have been shaky ever since.

I could rattle off a list of things that irked some committee members. And sometimes it irks a few, sometimes it’s a lot. But if it happens enough, people start getting more and more upset. That was probably the case here.

A vote here, the change of the vote, another vote that upsets the minority party members and it got frustrating. People write in to support Scarpati on a daily basis and they write in not a fan of him on a daily basis. People spoke with him before the City Council meeting last night to say he did a noble thing and others question his vote. He is clearly sick of having to hear all of it though and doesn’t want the spotlight and what comes with that right now.

I’ll clarify. Kevin welcomes the limelight. He sings, he acts, he coaches, he’s involved with politics. But this isn’t the spotlight he wants right now - caught between the two caucuses whether it is intentional or not.

Whether or not it crossed his mind, jumping straight to the Democrats would just put him out there looking like a traitor. Staying on the RTC opens him up to continued bashing from some members of his own party. It isn’t everybody upset with him, however. I spoke with Liz Whitney yesterday who seemed disappointed in the decision, but said they are still on good terms. I spoke with Dan Brunet who seemed disappointed Kevin didn’t speak with him directly beforehand. But I also spoke with Kevin who seemed disappointed more wasn’t being done to unite the party.

So where does he stand? Alone. Without a party.

For the next year, that may not be a bad thing. It gives Scarpati time to separate himself from the drama. He can walk away from the back and forth and vote however he wants without anything in the back of his head.

But a year from now they will be endorsing candidates for City Council. At the age of 25 (now) and only one term in, I doubt Kevin is done with politics. It certainly helps to get a party endorsing him. I don’t know that the Republicans will jump at the opportunity and I doubt We the People will. Then again, I’m not sure what the options at the time will be for the Republicans. Candidate Ron Perry lost by a pretty wide margin last time. John Thorp switched parties and dropped out of the race for health issues. Would they try running somebody else?

As for the Democrats, they remain an open possibility, for now. Last time they opted not to run Thorp despite his interest. He was told he didn’t fall enough in line with what the Dems believe in and had some questionable votes. Kevin, on the other hand, seems to have the support of public safety right now, he has had education support and he is well-known in the community. It might be tough to pass up endorsing him and getting a candidate who may not lean to the far left, but one who might fall toward the middle of the Republicans and Democrats.

He probably put it best when he said he isn’t sure what will happen 6 months from now, let alone a year. I don’t think major changes will happen, but you never know.

Either way, a sitting councilor changing his party is an interesting move. It’s one I anticipated at some point based on the way he was feeling and my interviews with him. But because I assumed something was coming doesn’t mean I expected it. With a mostly quiet summer, I could have easily seen things quieting down and reverting back to what they were.

But then, on a quiet Friday afternoon, Kevin shook that up. That’s politics for ya.

Jul 21

Photo courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

If you haven’t done this yet, I recommend you do it.

Take a quick look at this story and then check out the virtual tour of what the Meriden Hub (name pending) will be. Take your smart phone, use the QR reader, if you don’t have one - get one, then scan the QR code. You can follow the directions from there.

What you get is something pretty cool. It’s a look at the Meriden Hub. Right now, as I poke my head out the door, the Hub is under construction. It’s at all different elevations, but mostly a big dirt pile. It really looks like a giant sand box, but instead of sand it’s dirt and instead of toy trucks there are actual trucks.

But so many people doubt the project. That’s understandable because there is oftentimes a negative perception about downtown, projects Meriden takes on, etc. But you shouldn’t doubt something under construction. It’s happening and that 3D tour is proof. Those are real specifications and real plans.

I spent probably a half hour looking around, looking through the little intricacies and whatnot. I thought it was cool.

You wonder whether people will go to the park or not. On a 2D rendering looking down at the park, it makes sense - you aren’t sure what you’re getting. But in 3D it’s hard to imagine people don’t show up to the park. In the beginning it will likely be just to check it out. And I get it, Meriden has Hubbard Park. It’s a wonderful, magical place - but this won’t be terrible either. I’m sure it will succeed. It would be hard not to. People will go to Hubbard as a destination, but people will naturally walk through this park in downtown. And people will go there, but walkabout the area - that’s the hope anyway.

But let’s stop with the what ifs and ideas and hopes. Just take a few minutes to check out the tour. If you have any interest in Meriden, it’s worth a few minutes just to get the idea.

Jul 17

Clearing things up

Mayor Manny Santos spoke openly at a recent City Council meeting about six private developers interested in downtown. He added thoughts and opinions about affordable housing. It turned into a longer discussion.

A few days later, Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn emailed the mayor and the council to say it was not a good idea to have these drawn out conversations. It was not listed on the agenda and it is considered a violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Quinn said it was allowable, however, if a two-thirds vote was taken following a motion to discuss something not on the agenda.

Santos said he will ask for a motion and two-thirds vote in the future, but said as mayor there is no statute preventing him from making his remarks. He told me he would continue to do so and if there was a need for a discussion, he would go forward with looking for a motion.

City Attorney Debbie Moore clarified the situation after speaking with Tom Hennick, who is a staff member at the state FOI Commission. Moore reported back to the group, stating that the group should always look for a motion and vote rather than just speaking openly.

I spoke to Tom. Tom told me if Manny or anybody else give a quick update or make an announcement then it is allowable. If it is a discussion, there should be a vote.

If you want the longer version, here’s the story.

I spoke with the mayor yesterday after the story came out. He was disappointed and thought the article was misleading. He made note of it in a comment on the section, which I and an editor here recommended to do if he was not pleased.

I agree with Manny here: It does give the reader the impression that he disagreed with Tom Hennick. Why? Because before he read the article he did disagree. The mayor disagreed with Tom based on the information he got from Debbie Moore. He later agreed with Tom based on the information he got through my story.

So now I’m called out for being misleading. I have another person question my “agenda” and I have Wallingford Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who is also a lawyer with a prominent Meriden lawsuit right now, “liking” that post about my “agenda.”

Don’t shoot the messenger here. It’s my job to report on the topic and information as it was received and interpreted. I called Tom to verify the conversation between he and Moore took place and to hear firsthand what he had to say. I went a step further and explained the council meeting(s) and he responded with his thoughts.

In the emails obtained between Quinn, Santos, councilors, and Moore, Moore gives a number for Hennick and invites anybody to call.

The last sentence is where Santos seems to be where the mayor’s frustration is coming from. Had he learned the same information I reported through Moore, everything would have been fine. But because it was not, he seemed frustrated with Quinn and the Law Department for “giving inadequate legal (advice).”

If that piece of information was missing, I could see where the frustration is coming from. I also see where Quinn’s concern is coming from. You cannot leave items being discussed off of agendas unless they are brought up with a motion and vote. In talking with some members of the council, it seemed some were open to the mayor updating the city on the interest of developers. But once his opinion about affordable housing was added, they said he should have expected conversation to ensue. Some speculated that it was the mayor’s attempt to get his opinion out there without getting a rebuttal. Of course Brian Daniels did and then it was back and forth.

Either way, the discussion is over. We will see how it goes in the future, but that’s just something I wanted to clear up. I have no agenda, but hopefully you already knew that. I did not mean to mislead, if you did. All I did, was report and simply talk to the person that the city attorney spoke with.

Hope that clears that up.

Jul 14

Affordable housing and the future of downtown

Image courtesy of the City of Meriden

I’ll start by saying the above picture is not exactly what is being proposed anymore. It’s similar, it’ll take up the same amount of space, but in my opinion, it will look a little nicer than that if plans hold true.

What is it? It’s affordable housing. Well, for the most part. The first floor is office/retail/commercial space. Then there are 63 or 64 housing units above that.

What is pictured is very much a real possibility. And while it is real and the financing is going through the appropriate measures, it’s a project that has faced some heat.

Here’s why.

Of those units, all but 10 percent will be considered “affordable housing.” The reaction to affordable housing has been interesting. Why? Because most people don’t know what affordable housing is or what it means.

It’s not a quick and simple definition either. I mean, it’s supposed to mean it’s affordable to just about anybody with a full-time job, but it’s more complicated than that. It is affordable to people with varying levels of income and this project is also mixed income so people interested in market rate housing will also have their chance to live there.

Here’s some info on affordable housing.

Most people in Meriden are used to seeing and hearing about the Mills. This is not the Mills for a number of reasons. But most importantly, it is not the Mills just based on the income levels. Mills is low income housing. Strictly for people with lower incomes.

People in Meriden, however, do not change their minds and opinions very easily. That holds true in a lot of places. But a lot of Meridenites I know won’t change their minds on something until they physically see something to change their minds. People won’t understand affordable housing in downtown aimed at 25-35 year olds until they see it. It may happen. It may never happen. But people tend to not believe until they see.

So I like to give examples, specific examples, about how is eligible here.

First off, me. My wife and I could combine our salaries and be allowed to live here. Would we? No. These are 1-2 bedroom apartments and I have two kids so it’s not happening. I’m comfortable living in my neighborhood and in my house too. At some point, the American dream came to include the suburbs.

But a single me? I’m interested. Give me something to do downtown and I’m more interested.

Who else? Most of my friends. Surprise, we are all 25-35. In fact, I’m 25 and could have been on the younger end of people living downtown if that age ranged filled the area. I know people and have friends in a number of different jobs and work fields. They probably all qualify, if not both.

There are firefighters that qualify for this, people working in the Board of Education, lab technicians, laborers, the list goes on.

If this project is successful and the housing is marketed properly, you wind up with a group of working class people in the affordable housing units. Imagine that.

My advice to the people looking to be running the downtown - if you want those people there, start getting your ducks in a row. People my age like to do things. Give them something to do in downtown very soon. Give them a place to go. Anything to do. Lure them now. Otherwise, who is going to want to live in downtown with no businesses to visit or places to hang out other than the park? Just a thought.

Jul 10

The nepotism problem

Is there a problem with nepotism in the city of Meriden?

That’s a good place to start. An anti-nepotism policy was drafted and reviewed by the City Council. A second policy has now been written and the council is in the process of reviewing both. What will happen? I’m not sure.

The truth is, like most other municipalities, children, siblings, nieces, nephews, etc. follow in the footsteps of their relatives when it comes to career paths. You often see it happen in the public sector with police officers, firefighters, etc.

There is or shouldn’t be a problem when a kid grows up and wants to become a police officer his like father. But what happens when a relative is a superior?

We know the situation in Meriden in the Police Department, there is no need to rehash that. But the fact is, that is why an anti-nepotism policy is being proposed. It’s very clear and has been said for that matter. It has also come up in the past because of other relationships. Firefighter siblings, the Zebora brothers in the Parks Department…there are others.

It’s easy to see both sides of the issue. It’s great when it works out well and the family members do no wrong. But we’ve seen what can happen when things go wrong, as well.

I’m fascinated to see how this plays out. I know people for this and people against this and both sides are pretty firm where they stand. This will be an interesting split on the City Council as well because it’s far from a party issue. I know party members on both sides who disagree with those from their same party.

I’m not sure how it will play out, but I did have an interesting conversation while I was on vacation with a guy interested in joining the fire department. He is certified. He would come at no additional cost to the city. He’s known around town and likable. But he would be unable to join the FD if a relative works there. It seems unfair that he is impacted by at least one specific situation. Then again, if I’m the city, do I want to go down that route already traveled? There is no easy answer to the situation.

Jul 09

[video]

Jun 30

I’m back

You are taught in journalism not to use the word you in stories. They also tell you not to start stories with quotes or with questions.

So now that that is out of the way…

You guys, I’m back.

Sorry about not providing most with prior notice, but I have been off from work for a week now. Actually, I worked last Thursday, had off Friday, worked Saturday, and then I was off since then. So make of that what you will as to how long I was off.

It’s funny the reaction you get when people find out you’re on vacation. Sources specifically. The question immediately becomes, “well, how do I get this news out there?” “Who is going to write the news now?” and so on. As if there is nobody else at the RJ or something. Do people assume I work 24/7/265? Sometimes it feels that way.

But no, sometimes they let us out of this place. But the thing with technology is that you’re always connected. Always. And when you stop being connected, people begin to wonder. So I still tweeted, but in obvious ways to make people understand I wasn’t at work. In fact, my goal was to only stay somewhat current on the news, but not really read a lot of stories or share stories or participate in the news stuff. I needed a break.

Even during the catastrophic storms the last few years and during my days off and weekends, I have been known to write and fill people in on things. But no, not this week. This week was about my family being off from school and off from work.

I forgot what vacation was like. I don’t use a lot of vacation days. Well, I use them, but not for much vacation. I use them when one of my kids is sick. If you have two kids in different schools/daycares, you know that can be often. And with infants/toddlers it can be even more often.

So I often save those because you never know when they are needed. I do take some days off here and there: birthdays, anniversaries, etc. When I need a day on occasion. But a week? Never. We also have instances where we work on the weekend, so we get a day off during the week. That helps.

The last time I took a full week off was when Ryder was born. He was born March 4, 2013. So it had been more than a year. And that was for the birth of one of my sons.

Before that it was in 2011. In August. And it wasn’t even intended to be a full week. My wife and I were getting married in Miami and I took off almost a full week. Short on money, we didn’t have a real full honeymoon planned, just a few days in Miami and her parents and family ended up taking Xander at the time so we could have some time alone for a couple days. Then Tropical Storm Irene hit and kept us in Miami a little longer than expected. While it’s a great place to be stuck, it’s stressful trying to find flights then paying premium prices.

Funny story about that. We showed up at the airport on the day our flight was scheduled. When we got there, my lovely bride realized our ticket was booked for the day prior. Imagine that. I let her book the tickets. Keep track of the tickets. And the entire time she was convinced we were headed back up to CT on a Wednesday and we were were really headed back on a Tuesday. No worries though because I could just book a couple tickets back. Right? right. I book those then the flight is canceled. We got back up to CT on the next Tuesday, I believe.

Before that time off…well, I was hired at the RJ in mid-2010 and worked at the Citizen weekly papers prior to that. I interned at the RJ in the spring semester that year while going to school and got a week off for spring break. Of course, spring break that year consisted of the birth of Xander. So I haven’t had vacations in a while and it was nice to finally get some time off.

We didn’t have a ton planned for this past week. No big trip. I’m a reporter working on a reporter salary and my wife isn’t paid “the big bucks” yet either, so we kept it simple. Xander just got out of school two weeks ago for the summer and we had Ryder out of school for a week.

I was off with Xander that first Friday and I took him out for the day. I only get so much time with just him and so I like to spoil him when I get the chance, just as I will Ryder when he gets older. I took him to Hubbard Park after grabbing sandwiches from “the blue house” (Spoonshoppe Brooke Deli) in Meriden.

We had a picnic, watched the ducks and geese, fed the ducks and geese, went on the playscape, walked around the park, and headed back to the car before going out for ice cream. We then picked up Ryder from school and spent the day hanging out and playing some more.

Sunday we went to Rocky Neck beach with my brother-in-law and his kids. This is more or less how the beach went.

Ryder had never been to the beach before, so his mind was mostly blown. He loved the water, loved the sand and loved the train going by at the beach.

Monday my wife actually had to work still, so the boys and I were together. We went to Bartlem Park in Cheshire, went grocery shopping and did a few other things. Due to them being wild, I don’t have any photos from that day, but you can imagine.

Tuesday, we went to Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. Xander had been dying to go, but ended up being somewhat scared of the idea. Still, we spent some time there and enjoyed learning about dinosaurs.

The family went out to lunch and then Xander tried out mini golf for the first time. It was surprisingly well for a 4-year-old’s first try. Of course we went to Safari Golf because there are animals everywhere. It only makes sense.

Wednesday was Mystic Aquarium, which was another fun day. Minus a sandal incident (my wife’s sandal broke at the furthest possible distance from the car, we had to leave, buy new sandals, and then come back just in time for the sea lion show) it was a great day.

Thursday was our “off day”. No big trip, just a day to relax, hang out, grab breakfast and enjoy the day.

Friday was back to the beach. Xander insisted on Rocky Neck again.

Saturday was a graduation party and Sunday was a birthday party. At some point during the week I fit three softball games in, all of which my team won, by the way.

So after enjoying a nice “relaxing” week off that kicked my butt, here I am back at work. I’ll have some stuff to catch up on and will be posting as much as I can. So in the mean time, keep yourselves occupied with this.

Jun 21

Scarpati vs. the Caucus

Kevin Scarpati is in a tough spot, politically. He’s a Republican not leaning far enough to the right for his party and caucus and that has quickly become a problem.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Scarpati was seen as the up-and-comer of the party. There wasn’t a lot to be excited about and in an election where the Republicans and We the People were nearly swept, Scarpati pulled off a stunner and won an at-large council seat.

At the time, members of the party were just happy to have a Republican on the council. When Manny Santos was elected mayor though, it all changed. And you can throw Lenny Rich’s win in there too as one that turned some heads and started the change.

The Republican party now has some power and a good amount of it. But in order to exercise that power, the party is in a position where it needs all members on the same page. So this is where you run into a conundrum: do you vote the way you truly feel or the way the party wants you to feel.

Kevin has run into some instances where he feels differently from the party and then votes against them. The Democrats often vote down party lines, so when Kevin votes with the other seven in party-line votes, it looks like he’s jumping ship.

It doesn’t help his case that he’s butting heads with the mayor here. The mayor, of course, has been praised by his party and when you butt heads with the one being praised, you get the opposite treatment.

Still, Scarpati has supporters in his party, he’s just being put in a tough spot. Vote the way you feel and be prepared to hear about it. Speak out against your party and you hear about it.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Kevin, but it’s pretty clear there is some tension. I didn’t include it in the story, but here’s more or less what he told me: Vote with the caucus and the next caucus meeting is normal. Vote opposite of the caucus and he’s sure to hear about it at the next caucus meeting. At some point you have to get sick of it. At some point you probably start questioning your future with that caucus.

He seemed to have forgotten part of the RTC meeting happened in executive session so he was pretty open about it. Committee members, according to Scarpati, turned on him, called him out and even one suggested he leave the party.

He’s not budging. If they want him off the party, they have to push him off. For now, anyway. If this continues he could always choose to leave.

But then what?

I see a few options. He could choose to stick with the party. Maybe that involves changing his vote here and there. Maybe it means continuing what’s going on and cross his fingers on an endorsement in November 2015. If no endorsement, then maybe he runs independently. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s done, it’s just a rare thing and to then be successful at it.

He could also leave the party. It’s a risky move, but obviously would be done so with talking with another party beforehand. Say, oh I don’t know, the Democrats. It’s not completely ridiculous and it’s been done before. Either way, Scarpati is well known in the community. He’s young and still an up-and-comer so he could be a good tool to have around.

Or he could leave politics. But I don’t see that happening.

Jun 18

Here we go again

I think I’ve used that as a title before, but it’s true. Just when you think things are done and dead, just when you think things are looking “normal,” just when you think people may get along…they go and prove you wrong.

By now you’ve probably read or heard about the City Council voting 8-3 to hire outside counsel. A judge originally said Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn could keep his pay no matter what happened in a lawsuit that questioned whether he should rightfully be the corporation counsel. The judge also said Quinn would not be responsible for any attorney/legal fees.

I was there when the judge was talking about it. He was quick and straightforward, making the argument that Quinn should not have to pay anything back.

Months later, the plaintiffs came back and said they want to keep this thing going and challenge that. So they are. And the council brought forward another resolution over this after it was vetoed last time, although last time it involved Quinn’s appeal of the judge’s decision that Quinn was improperly holding his seat.

If your head is spinning, I’m sorry. Mine is too, if that makes you feel any better.

Maybe I should make this easier?

Anyway, after (yet another) contentious meeting Monday night, it spilled over onto Facebook last night. Here you go:

At this point, I don’t know where things stand. I mean, I know where they stand. It’s pretty obvious. Kevin and Manny don’t get along. Kevin is distanced from his caucus and party. The Democrats get to just watch this unfold. The Republicans seem divided on this.

But I’m not sure where you go from here. It’s clear they want things headed in two different directions and neither is going to back down. So while Kevin was seen as an up-and-comer in the party not too long ago, things have clearly changed.

Oh, and more to come on this in the next week or so and in Thursday’s paper.

Jun 11

Digging up the Hub

Was at the Hub today and I’m not getting into too much detail. It’s almost 9 pm on Wednesday and it’s not that I want to get home and see the family, it’s that I want to save the real story for tomorrow. Because it’s a good one, just not posted on our website…yet.

Either way, I was at the Hub today for a little bit. And as impressive as those dirt piles are on the site, it’s cooler to be on the site and seeing what’s going on.

So here are a few pictures I took so you can see things a little closer up.

Above is the new channel that has been dug throughout most of the property. It is almost done, will run north and south between East Main and Mill streets, and they only have a little left to go.

Here’s another spot. It’s natural ground water and rain water there, but it’s a fairly deep hole as you can see. It’s tough to see from the street, being almost smack dab in the middle of the property.

For the record, those piles are enormous. The stuff under the blue tarp is contaminated soil. It’s lumped together and will be hauled off. A lot of the other soil can be re-purposed. It’s actually pretty cool to watch because they sift things out and then concrete goes in one pile, rocks go in another, bricks in another, and so forth.

Just another shot on a grey day. But one thing to note is how big the parcel is when you’re actually on it. It always looks somewhat big, but it’s so open when you’re standing on it.

More holes/channel area.

And lastly, seeing as how the story will post online in 3 hours or so anyway, I’ll drop this right here as a quick teaser. By the time most see it, the story will be up and I’ll have updated this with a link. In the mean time…

Jun 10

Christmas canceled

Photo credit: Justin Weekes l For the Record-Journal

What an interesting photo that turned out to be. Taken at the December 2012 Christmas in the Village event, it was just hours or minutes before a series of events lead to the cancellation of the even CITV two years later.

The Photo

According to a lawsuit filed by Gerald Kane, those horses and the “carriage” ran him over after he tried climbing into the area where those two men are. He claims the horse’s owner, the city and the handlers, Bradley and Kimberly Hulbert were negligent, intoxicated and at fault for his injuries.

It’s unclear who the three people are in the photo. To me at least. I haven’t asked because we didn’t run it with the story. But according to the lawsuit anyway, Bradley was managing and steering the horses all day with Kimberly helping out. Gerald was in the area where the man in the photo is steering the horses throughout the day, as well.

In putting the story on Facebook, Richie Rathsack - our digital/online savvy guy - was looking for older CITV photos and found this one. Then saw it was from 2012. Oh, the irony.

Insurance

CITV (as the local villagers call it, apparently) has been going on for 15 years. Thankfully, there hadn’t been any other incidents where people wound up suing the city.

It’s the city’s position that they aren’t at fault. They say they don’t sponsor the event, they don’t have a hand in it and they aren’t involved. It should be noted the city does lend a hand with Parks and Rec staff though and PD.

The city also claims it does not have an insurance policy covering the event. Hypothetically, if any other injuries took place over the years, somebody could have sued and CITV would not have been covered.

In talking with the organizers, they were under the impression they were always covered. That was apparently not the case, except for the parking lot. The parking lot, it turns out, was insured.

Canceled

It’s pretty clear the legal situation probably won’t be figured out before December. What that really means is, CITV won’t know who is at fault (if anybody) between now and then and won’t know if they were really covered or not.

Likely not getting an insurance policy between now and then, it’s a struggle to hold the event. You open yourself up to risk and in a day in age when people are sometime sue happy (not saying that is or isn’t the case here) people sue.

It was also pretty clear that those people organizing the event are upset. If you haven’t read it already, here’s a letter to the editor about the event and cancellation from an organizer.

City vs. Christmas

Editor:

Warning to any organization that helps the city put together any events or festivals: When things are going good the politicians and city like to take the credit, but when there is a problem they run and hide or have amnesia.

The Christmas In The Village committee thought they had insurance because on Oct. 5, 2004 City Councilman Keith Gordon reported to the CITV committee that he had spoken to then-city manager Roger Kemp and it was decided that CITV would become an official city event and would be covered under the city insurance. Then in 2007 we needed to show proof of insurance to use a local business parking lot. Councilman Gordon each year would get a certificate of insurance from the city risk manager.

It was not until Holly Wills and I got subpoenaed in March 2014 that we found out that the city does not consider CITV a city event and it is not covered by city insurance. The certificate of insurance was only good for use of the parking lot.

For 15 years, the city has provided police, parks dept., signs, stage, tents, garbage cans and other equipment. For 15 years, the CITV committee (comprised of South Meriden residents, business owners, councilmen and police officer) have raised money through sponsors and recently have added a car show to bring the community together free of charge.

The city, working with CITV committee to bring many different organizations together to celebrate the holiday season, is what makes this event so well attended. For the city manager to say this is not a city event and has compared it to a block party is very disheartening. Fifteen years without an incident — and now CITV is being thrown under the wagon.

(The writer is co-chairwoman of Christmas in the Village.)

Aprill Ouellette, S. Meriden

It’s clear they aren’t happy and the organizers feel they were thrown under the bus a little. Also unhappy are those involved with the Council of Neighborhoods. CONA (as they are called) got mashed into the lawsuit, but President Holly Wills was pretty clear in talking to me that CONA has no involvement in CITV.

This is turning into alphabet soup, but stay with me.

Wills is involved with CONA and CITV (as are others), but they are two separate entities operating on their own.

Now what?

We will see if it’s really canceled or if it’s a scare tactic 6 months out. There is a fairly simple solution to this if they want to hold the event, but it creates other issues. The solution: hand CITV over to CONA.

Make CITV a committee or task force within CONA and then there is insurance to cover the event. Why? Because the city added CONA to the insurance policy as a direct result of this. Wait, CONA events like National Night Out weren’t covered by insurance? Whoops.

The potential issue is if CONA and CITV appear to be in cahoots, it makes CITV at risk in the lawsuit. Or CITV. Or both.

You could also ask a non-profit to run it for a year and figure it out the next year. With the CITV committee doing most of the heavy lifting, ask, say, the Meriden Y to sponsor it and cover the insurance.

Just a thought.

Insurance

It’s unfortunate that seemingly everything needs insurance these days. But when you could sue over just about anything, you apparently need it for everything.

A similar case just came up in Southington. It’s been seven years since the Southington Dog Park opened and the park’s association was created. Now, it’s disbanded because the town wouldn’t cover the cost. sound familiar?

A member of the association could be sued simply for a dog biting another dog. Or a person. Somebody who wasn’t there gets sued because they are trying to do something positive for the community. Wonderful.

Anyway, there was plenty of reaction about the CITV situation so hopefully the issue can be resolved and it can continue on this year. I’ve been a few times and it’s a nice event in South Meriden. Hopefully it continues another year and many more.

Jun 09

Goodbye NRG

I’ll present this without much comment, but as you likely know the NRG power plant has been on its way down. The city and NRG came to an agreement last year that brought down the two buildings, one of which was 82-feet tall, and two storage tanks. Sitting on top of Cathole Mountain the original agreement to locate a power plant up there was controversial, but money won out. The plant never actually happened, but the city walked away with $32 million it didn’t have before.

If you’ve never been up there, it’s hard to get a good view of the cliff, but the sight of the building was impressive. You walk through nature and suddenly hit these massive abandoned buildings. Not anymore though. You’ll still hit that fence, but everything else is gone. What the future holds is somewhat in NRG’s hands, but I doubt it will be a power plant.

Anyway, here are some pictures from atop the mountain. They were taken by Public Works director Bob Bass and sent to the city manager who then sent them to the City Council. Then a city councilor sent them to me. Sending them through public email accounts make them public record either way, but Bob has been nice in the past and allowed me and the paper to use the photos, so here they are.

Here’s a look at what it used to look like, in case you forgot.

Jun 06

Minor league moves

By now you’ve probably heard about the big move for the New Britain Rock Cats over to Hartford. Hopefully they take the new busway to get there.

It was a somewhat surprising turn of events, but one I felt I wanted to reflect on here. Before I get to that though, I need the Meriden hook. So here it goes:

It December 1972 it was announced the Pawtucket Red Sox were coming to Meriden. Of course, that never happened. They went to Bristol instead. They lasted about a decade there before moving to New Britain and later switching their affiliation (from the Red Sox to the Rock Cats) and now they’ll be onward to Hartford.

As we see this minor league team move to Hartford, it brings up the question of will it succeed or not? Will people care? Will people go? Is it a good move? And to be honest, I don’t know.

Eleven cities have been home of a Double-A baseball team according to Chip Malafronte of the New Haven Register. Only one one remains. Or remained.

Malafronte talks about why they have stayed and been successful for so long. They’ve got a great location right off the highway. They have a nice stadium. They can really connect well with the community around the central part of the state and even further.

Of course money is a factor here for the move. A $60 million stadium. A larger market. Etc. Of course Hartford sees it as an opportunity to build up a rundown area, get a new stadium/performance or event venue there, get more people into the city, and to move toward an eventual professional sports team. Like, a major league professional sports team. Most likely, the Whalers. But who knows if that will ever happen.

Back to that Meriden angle.

In December of 1972 Mayor Abe Grossman announced the Red Sox double-A team was considering a Meriden move. On Dec. 29, we (the newspaper) ran a headline announcing “Red Sox are moving to Meriden” after a deal was struck. It wasn’t all that dissimilar from this situation - a least the deal part. The part about the secret negotiations only applies to the Rock Cats - it was known the team was leaving Pawtucket. It was thought the team would move to Bristol, but Grossman swooped in.

The team was coming to Ceppa Field and some “big” improvements were planned. $100,000 for new lights, $65,000 for cement box seats, $20,000 for locker rooms and administrative offices, $100,000 for a roof over the stands„„and it goes on. In total, almost $300,000 was going to be spent. Compare that to the $60 million today and you have a bargain.

Looking back, it makes you wonder if it would’ve worked and if the team would have stayed. My guess is no, they wouldn’t have. You would have had an excellent field, but the Rock Cats had a really nice one in Bristol at Muzzy Field. That field eventually was passed down to so that high school and legion games, etc. could be played there. Likely, it would have been the same in Bristol.

The team played in a field now used by New Britain High School for its games before moving to the stadium. It will be unfortunate if the current stadium goes unused, but my guess is New Britain figures a way to get some other type of minor league team there. Hopefully, anyway.

So what went wrong?

Grossman worked this deal out, but of course he wasn’t the most well-liked mayor in the history of the city. In fact, he’s one of the most notorious. Some council members were upset this would be on the city to pay and not on the baseball franchise. You look to Hartford now and that council might not flinch at the expense.

The council struck the deal down though on an 11-8 vote. They then voted to reconsider it, but wanted to shift the cost to the team still. Seeing Bristol as an alternative, the team went there and the rest is history.

Ceppa is still a baseball field. Maloney and Platt play games there and some other teams use it. It’s a nice field that could be made even nicer if some additional money was thrown at it. Talking to David Salafia a few months back for the election, he wanted to invest money in the field to make it a premier baseball field. I haven’t heard any mention of that from a councilor since.

It would’ve been interesting fitting all of those cars for a minor league game into Ceppa Field. I imagine they’d need some additional parking. Broad Street would be a busy place on game days. The field, similar to this Hartford project, was seen as a possibility for other events to be held.

But the minor league team never came. And it probably wouldn’t have lasted either way, but always an interesting ‘what if?’ question.

Jun 05

I think this is where it gets real

Those were the words of Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski. And what she said is the truth. So many government funds have been passed off to Meriden for everything to build up and get to this point.

Close to $15 million just to redevelop the Hub. That doesn’t include previous studies, knocking down the Hub building, etc.

Millions for a train station and improved rail services.

More than $1 million to purchase properties in downtown and put together new zoning regulations.

Over the years, money was used to purchase other buildings or taxes were “eaten” while foreclosing on others.

Tax credits will be used on a Colony Street development along with other money that comes from the state government.

The bottom line, a lot of governmental dollars are being invested in order to send the downtown in a new, better direction. Now it’s time to see if what is going on will interest private developers.

People have been critical for the city not already attracting private developers. The question is: what is here to attract them? Prior to the zoning regulations, it was close to impossible to develop something manageable. You’d need an absurd number of parking spaces in a downtown that doesn’t have the space. So a parking garage would be attached to any project anyway. You have a train system that forces you to board multiple trains - while not completely inconvenient, people HATE the idea of any inconvenience. There still aren’t a ton of shops and such in downtown, but there was also a large area known as the Hub that was completely empty.

Not mentioned earlier, but the flood control has had millions invested in it, as well. If you don’t fix the flooding, the private investors just aren’t coming. Why? Investors and businesses aren’t dying to jump into a place where there is a possibility of flooding that will wipe out what they build or own.

That’s a long way of leading me to this point: the city is now open for business. Nine properties in the downtown are on the open market. The city is requesting qualifications for private developers. That’s a complicated way of saying, “show me what you’ve done, what properties you’re interested and what you might want to do with them and we might consider you.” From there, they will be reviewed, shortlisted and then they will ask for proposals from the developers, basically saying “tell us exactly what your plan is and we will go from there.”

So here’s a list of the nine properties and what to (maybe) expect.

(All photos courtesy of Justin Weekes l Record-Journal)

116 Cook Ave.

It was a former factory turned medical office building. Now it looks like this. It was a heavily criticized purchase by the city because it was so early on in the process of recreating the downtown. By early on, I mean it was voted on in 2009, which wasn’t all that long ago, but still five years ago.

I’m told it’s not in wonderful shape inside, but can be rehabbed if there is interest. Plans have been drawn up to turn it into some type of housing-offices mix, which I could see. Again though, I’ve never been in.

It wouldn’t be as complicated a project as the former hospital, but it wouldn’t be easy either. It could also be demolished, which would be far easier (but still costly) and built from the ground up.

25-33 Colony St.

In some cases city officials just want interest, in other situations they’ve got a pretty good idea. In this case, they’ve got a pretty good idea. I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence the new train station is being built directly across from this empty lot. The station has a bridge that connects over to the lot. This essentially means State Street is now connected to Colony Street. For convenience purposes, it’s great. For expanding the downtown, it’s even better. You know longer have to stand in front of this lot, look over toward Pratt Street, and say “yeah, not gonna happen.”

That’s more or less what happened a few months ago when some elected officials were visiting downtown and opted originally not to go over to Prentis Printing because it was inconveniently located. It would have taken a walk down Colony Street, heading east on East Main, through two major intersections and then over to Prentis. With the bridge (not that everybody is running over to Prentis, but perhaps other businesses will open up in the area) it creates a straight line and allows people to use the train bridge and the Hub bridge. Essentially, it just makes a more walkable downtown.

Back to this lot.

If you have a walkable area and then this lot and a housing development/office space/parking garage across Colony Street, it doesn’t make sense to leave the lot open. You could have people parked at the parking garage and force them to walk through a building to get to the train on any given day. Force them to walk through and then put a cafe in the building and suddenly people need that coffee in that morning or a sandwich at lunch. Why? Because it’s convenient. So create the business downstairs, build up a few floors, and suddenly you’re collecting rent, too.

Factory H

This one is a little more complicated. Again, government dollars went into the cleanup oft he site and demolition of the building. The problem now will be reusing it.

Preliminary plans called for some type of park on this section and another parcel owned by the city. Along with the park/green area would be townhouses and likely some replacement units for Mills Memorial Apartments.

This plan would not only require Harbor Brook improvements to deal with flood control, but probably for Butler Street o be extended to connect Hanover and Cooper Street. The parcels are mostly boxed in by 116 Cook Ave., apartments to the north, and housing on the east and west. Oh, and train tracks in the northeast.

It’s nice for an interested developer that there is no building to rehab, but it’ll be interesting to see if anybody is interesting in dealing with the challenges of the site.

The Hub

What a comeback story it would be for the Hub if something is ever rebuilt on this site. For a while there, it seemed like it would forever be a parcel of grass and broken pavement.

But in the northwest corner and along the east side of the property, there stands two sections that will be removed from the flood plain and saved for economic development.

The ideas, again, have been mixed-use for office and housing. It would make sense and overlooking the Hub park would be a real advantage.

Record-Journal

This one will take creativity. I’ve worked here four years and am still finding rooms in this building.

It’s built on a slope and the back parking lot is elevated higher than most of the building. So it’s a complicated site. I sit here at my desk sometimes and wonder how you’d even go about doing this.

City Manager Larry Kendzior suggested demolishing part of the building and then building something new. That may be what has to be done.

Groups have come through to look at the building, but it’s got a lot of challenges. Then again, when you come in every day and see it as an office it becomes difficult to see it as anything else. So perhaps some creative minds can figure it out. There’s plenty of space though and the location is pretty good.

Former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital

Again, some creativity (and a good amount of money) needed. This one will be a project. And yet, it has drawn some interest.

Walking through the building, it’s not tough to imagine offices or housing in here. But the building is old. Some of it probably needs to be demolished. A lot of it will need a serious rehab. All of it will need to be abated.

Still, it’s a nice-sized structure and it’s already been a hospital so the offices and rooms are there. And it’s just outside of the real downtown area.

69 E. Main St.

A smaller parcel, this has been empty as long as I can remember. Pretty literally. I was born in 1988, this building came down in 1993. But it’s in a nice spot for a new building.

There’s a parking lot next to it. There are buildings across the street (including that one that’s still not being used) and it’s always an area I’ve liked.

You won’t need a massive developer for this lot, just somebody willing to build a smaller building only a few stories high. Office/housing/business space obviously makes sense.

32 W. Main St.

Kendzior remembered this site pretty well when I mentioned it to him. Grant’s, a former store, was in this site for a long period of time. Back in the 1960s, Kendzior worked here and remembered it well.

Now, it’s just grass and a spillover area during the annual downtown brewfest. I really can’t think of many other reasons this lot is here. Few people walk on it, it stands between an unused property and the police station.

But with some creativity, a new building can be put in place. Of course, it would have to fit the characteristics of the area, but something can be found.

88 Grove St.

If you’re looking at this site, the left was a former bowling alley. The right was a house. Now there’s nothing.

Situated across the street from a parking garage, you’d think some type of office building could be situated here. Or housing. Again, this isn’t a very large property, but it’s empty so it wouldn’t take much to develop on the site.

This property could help expand the downtown just a few feet more, as well.

Jun 02

Fire at Hunters

Image courtesy of Justin Weekes l Record-Journal

I don’t have time for a lengthy post having just left three City Council-related meetings and wanting to get home to see my family.

But I wanted to post this story quick on the fire over at Hunter’s Golf Course. It really is an unfortunate fire that appears to have been arson, considering a bridal shower, wedding and the Chamber of Commerce gold event are all scheduled to be held there in the coming days. On top of that, you have your usual events and dining at a nice restaurant. In a city limited with nice restaurants, it’s unfortunate this one now will be out of service for a little while.

I admit I haven’t been there dozens of times. But it does have a little bit of special meaning. When I was much younger, my grandparents lived on Bee Street and you could see the golf course from their house. So I just always remember looking over there where my grandfather played every morning. I remember his surprise birthday party there one year. and I remember last year after his funeral the reception held over there. My parents love the place. And recently, Connecticut Magazine had a quick write up about the course and the restaurant.

The truth is, it’s a nice place and something in Meriden people should be proud to have. Unfortunately, you get something like this and it ruins it. But hopefully it will be back soon and running like normal. Given that it’s June 2, hopefully it will be sooner than later because it is prime golf season.