August 18, 2014

Contrasting proposals for former downtown mall site

There's a lot going on all of a sudden with the former mall site downtown. You can read the latest story here.
A link to the Goman+York report is available here.
Here is the revised financial proposal from Renaissance Downtowns, which includes information about the funding options for Building B, a mixed-use structure that would face Main Street:



Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 16, 2014

West End could be transformed by road changes


Proposed changes in West End, looking west from School Street.

A preliminary plan for the reconstruction of the West End’s jagged junctions calls for the demolition of two commercial buildings and a handful of residential homes.
The state Department of Transportation plan, kept under wraps for a couple of months, would close off the eastern end of Divinity Street, change the access to Landry Street and shift Route 72 closer to the Pequabuck River.
The two commercial buildings, each more than a century old, are on the northwest corner of the junction, with the recently-reopened Wah Lung restaurant the best known establishment housed in them.
“This really dresses up the West End,” said Mayor Ken Cockayne. Click here to read the story.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 14, 2014

Witch's Dungeon to stay in Bristol

The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum isn't moving to New York after all.
It's moving instead to the Bristol Historical Society's quarters in the city's first high school on Federal Hill.
Cortlandt Hull, the museum's linchpin, said the new place will be larger by far than the small outbuilding on Battle Street that has housed it for 48 years.
This fall, the display will offer more life-size figures than ever along with original movie props Hull has acquired over the years.
Hull said that Jim Albert, the president of the Bristol-based Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, is largely responsible for making it possible for the museum to stay in its hometown.
I'll have much more about this in the days and weeks ahead.
It's a relief to all of us who know what treasures Cortlandt has to see a resolution that saves the museum for Bristol while simultaneously lending a hand to the historical society and its underappreciated assets. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 13, 2014

Don't count Rydingsward out for good

Though Mary Rydingsward came up short in the primary fight Tuesday to see who the Democrats would back for registrar, don't count her out of politics yet.
The final tally against former city Councilor Kevin McCauley was pretty close. And he was always pretty good at racking up votes in his council races.
It's certainly possible that Rydingsward could jump into the municipal election next year as a 1st District City Council candidate -- watch out, Eric Carlson! -- or perhaps even for mayor. She could perhaps give possible mayoral contender Ellen Zoppo-Sassu a tough fight if that ever came to a primary.
After all, even after Tuesday's loss, Rydingsward still has winning record in primary campaigns. And she's never hesitated to take on the Democrats' chosen candidate.
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 12, 2014

Reaction to a judicial ruling that favors cafeteria workers

Reactions to this story about a judicial ruling that went against the Board of Education yesterday:

Mike Petosa, president of the Greater Bristol Labor Council:
"It's time for the Board of Education to stop this madness and to put their people back to work the way it used to be.
"... Go back to the status quo.Let them do the job they were initially hired to do."
He said the judge's decision shows once again "the dedication and hard work" the union has demonstrated in trying protect 53 cafeteria workers whose jobs would be lost if the school cafeterias are privatized.
He said the unions in Bristol "will always fight" to protect the rights of working people that are under assault across the country from Republicans "who want to bust the unions and knock down the middle class."
"We're going to fight it in this city. This city is about taking of its people."

Mary Fortier, Democratic city councilor:
"I am certainly happy with Judge Schuman's ruling but it is a shame that the cafeteria workers have to continue to be ping pong balls in this mess."

Calvin Brown, Democratic city councilor:
School board members "Fitzgerald, Amara, Dolan, Morgan, and Dube have continued to morbidly abuse these 53 cafeteria workers for well over a year now. The Commissioners lost the Labor Ruling, now they've lost their misguided request for a stay on that ruling, and they'll lose again if they continue to fight this vindictive legal battle in the courts. It's time for the Board of Education to admit they illegally bargained in bad faith and stop wasting taxpayer time and money."

Karen Vibert, Democratic Board of Education member:
"On the record, all responses to media are supposed to go through the BOE chair; however, the BOE chair, contrary to Robert's Rules, did not allow me to speak at the last meeting, basically cutting me off and ending the meeting because I disagreed with him, so I will speak here.
"I have been a supporter of the cafeteria workers because last year the BOE negotiating committee and the Union reached a tentative agreement and the Union gave back more at the table in terms of wages and benefits than I ever imagined they would.  It was more than fair.  It was unfortunate that the full Board then voted against the agreement and the issue then went into the costly world of egos and legal battles.  These legal battles may take months, if not years, before final decisions are rendered.  The Republican majority voting to sign a contract with the Whitson company put the Board into more legal and financial jeopardy.  To quote the judge's order, 'The Plaintiff; -- the Board of Education -- 'must accept the consequences of its own choice.'"

Chris Wilson, Democratic Board of Education member and former chairman:
"First of all please be aware my response is my own and not that of the Bristol BOE, However the minority position has not been articulated because it has been in opposition to the majority.
"I believe the Tentative agreement negotiated between  Bargaining unit 2267 and the Bristol BOE was fair. Both sides gave concessions to reach a settlement.
"Unfortunately, the Republican Majority (none of which had been involved in negotiations as a BOE member) decided not to support the agreement.  The arbitration ruling allowed that the BOE could privatize. But one still is compelled to negotiate in 'good faith.' The Labor Relations Board determined that had not happened and their remedy was to put in place the Tentative Agreement.
"At this point,  the majority, has decided to appeal and requested a stay of the Labor Relations ruling. Now that stay request has been dissolved.
"It is clear the board acted prematurely in executing a contract with Whitson’s prior to all of the legal remedies being exhausted. This case is now in the hands of the courts to determine if MR. Amara did not negotiate in 'Good Faith.'
"Since , that ruling,  and any appeal thereof could go either way, I believe it is time to put this matter to rest and not spend any more money on this matter.  From the beginning, this case has been  framed by the majority as saving considerable amounts of money.  It is clear any savings will be eaten up in legal fees.
"I see no reason to spend bad money after good. The cafeteria workers have been put through the mill,  it is time for it to stop. If,  through the tentative agreement the shortfall cannot be reduced then the administration will need to reengineer how it delivers food service. Labor can and should be a part of that discussion.
"It is time for all parties to begin working together instead of in opposition to each other. Enough is enough!"

Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, Democratic city councilor:
"I believe the cost savings that implementing the Tentative Agreement would have achieved last winter would have far outweighed whatever alleged savings and beyond  that is now being spent by the Republican leadership on legal fees to justify their shaky position. The fact that, after yet another setback, they are still trying to insist they are right, is sad and is a distraction from what they should be doing as elected leaders. Three wrongs don't make a right."

Jill Fitzgerald, Republican Board of Education member:
"No comments on the ruling. Need to hear from legal counsel."

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Major changes eyed for West End


This is a close up of a proposed reconfiguration of the West End intersections, looking north toward the main junction of Park and West streets. I'll get a better version soon. This one is grabbed off a picture Mayor Ken Cockayne just posted where he's showing it off to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Here's a story I wrote in May about the overall project.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

2010 primary results in Bristol, for statewide offices

Here are the results of the 2010 primaries in Bristol, which should come in handy for making sense of today's numbers:

Republicans
Governor:
Tom Foley -- 477
Mike Fedele -- 543
Oz Griebel -- 303

Lieutenant Governor:
Mark Boughton -- 564
Lisa Wilson-Foley -- 681

U.S. Senator:
Linda McMahon -- 679
Peter Schiff -- 337
Rob Simmons -- 330

Congress:
Ann Brickley -- 632
Mark Zydanowicz -- 649

Attorney General:
Martha Dean -- 777
Ross Garber -- 510
Democrats:
Governor:
Dan Malloy -- 1,808
Ned Lamont -- 1,369

Lieutenant Governor:
Nancy Wyman -- 1,984
Mary Glassman -- 1,154

Secretary of the State:
Denise Merrill -- 1,975
Gerry Garcia -- 1,137

Comptroller:
Kevin Lembo -- 2,130
Michael Jarjura -- 905


Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Voters scarce in Bristol, but there are a few

Bristol Elks Club this morning
You have to look pretty hard to find a voter in Bristol today.
Though both Republicans and Democrats are holding a primary, turnout has been abysmal so far.
Registrars office this morning
In the most hotly contested race, the GOP had turned out 242 voters in the first three hours of the day -- out of a total of 6,525 in all. That's a measly 3.7 percent.
Even so, I did find a voter.
At Greene-Hills School, Jim Couture, who brought along his young daughter, said he headed to the polls to protect his Second Amendment rights.
Couture said he based his choices on which candidates defended gun rights best, casting his vote in the Republican primary for former Ambassador Tom Foley. Foley, the endorsed gubernatorial contender, is facing a challenge from state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney.
The Democrats aren't seeing much of a turnout either, but didn't have solid numbers available.
Outside the Bristol Elks Club, former city Councilor Kate Matthews said she couldn't wait to get inside and vote for "the best darn choice for Democratic registrar of voters," her former council colleague, Kevin McCauley.
McCauley, who has the party's backing, is facing a primary against the incumbent, Mary Rydingsward.
Since Rydingsward has twice before beaten her party's chosen candidates for registrar, party officials are worried that McCauley might face a tough time.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 11, 2014

Betts predicts Foley, Bacchiocci as GOP primary winners

Here's what state Rep. Whit Betts, a Bristol Republican, predicts for Tuesday's GOP primary:

"Turnout for the primary on Tuesday will be low. A lot of folks are on vacation this
week, and they will not be here to cast a vote (although they could with an absentee ballot).

"My guess is a low turnout helps [John] McKinney while a large one will likely be good news for [Tom] Foley.

"Whichever campaign gets out their targeted supporters to vote will win. Based on what I have hear and been told there is more support for Foley because a lot of folks are upset with McKinney over his support for the new gun law. Further, I believe Foley beat [Dannel] Malloy in Bristol in the last gubernatorial race in 2010. So I expect Foley will win in this area.

"Personally, I think both Foley and McKinney will support Bristol because of the good working relationships they have with many of the Republicans leaders in Bristol and Plymouth.

"With respect to Lt. Governor's race my guess is [Penny] Bacchiocci will win in a tight contest. Of the 3 candidates my sense is she has the experience and organization for getting out her base of supporters to vote. However, if the voter turnout in Fairfield County is heavy than [Dave] Walker may end up winning. I don't see [Heather] Somers winning based on the aggressive ad she just put out against Walker. This type of negative ad suggests she had to do something dramatic to counter low ratings that she internally may have discovered from a poll survey."


Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

No need for secrecy with Renaissance

At Wednesday's City Council meeting, officials plan to hold a closed-door, executive session to talk about negotiations between the city, the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. and Renaissance Downtowns.
Let's assume it's just dandy under the state open government laws for that to happen. It probably is.
But just because something can be discussed in secret doesn't mean it must be done out of the public's view.
And in this case at least, it's hard to see any justification for it.
Renaissance is supposed to be coming up with an alternative plan to begin its Depot Square project. The BDDC will likely review it soon. That plan will be made public, officials have already told me.
At the same time, there's a Hartford real estate outfit performing an independent review. I think its work, which is due for completion this month, will also be public.
What the council does will be public. What the BDDC does will be public. What Renaissance does will be public. What Goman+York does will be public.
The only thing that isn't going to be public is, oddly, the discussion by the city's elected leaders.
That doesn't make a whit of sense. What are they doing in secret that can't be said or done in the open?
At the very least, they ought to explain in a whole lot more depth what the heck they're thinking and why before they disappear into a little room with no cameras and no audience.
Adherence to the idea and spirit of open government is a whole lot more important than mere obedience to the terms of the law.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 10, 2014

When the city bought the mall site...

I keep hearing that the city bought the mall back in 2005 in the middle of the night with no public notice. That's just not true.
I thought it might enlighten some of you to see the story that reporter Jackie Majerus wrote on March 12, 2005 -- six days before the city bought the site for $5.3 million:

The city could buy the 17-acre downtown mall property as soon as this week, said Mayor Gerard Couture.
The mayor said a deal between the city and mall owner S. Rudy Gatto and Associates is “imminent before next weekend.”
The two sides are still negotiating the price, Couture said. He said it is likely to be in “the high fours” and “less than five” million.
“There may be a decision from the attorneys, a deal that we can agree to,” Couture said Saturday. “That deal my come within seven to 10 days.”
But while Couture insisted, “there’s nothing unusual going on,” the city has three special meetings on the issue scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
Former Mayor Frank Nicastro is questioning the sudden rash of special meetings and the timing of the posting of at least one of them.
“The people never had a say in this project,” said Nicastro, a Democrat who led the city for a decade, with Couture serving alongside him on the City Council. “It came out this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re buying and this is what it’s gonna cost.”
The purpose of the meetings, said Couture, is to get those boards that have already okayed the purchase of about seven acres of mall property to sign on for the full 17-acre deal.
If the sale goes through quickly, it would represent a step forward for the city’s plan to raze the mall and replace it with a recreation center, performing arts theater, fieldhouse, parking ramp and Bristol Boys and Girls Club headquarters.
It would also eliminate the problem of a new – and unwanted by project leaders – Walgreens drug store on a key corner of the property.
“We’re negotiating the deal,” said Couture. “That’s not saying we would not talk to Walgreens at a later date.”
The drug store project is in the early stages. Several applications needed for the Walgreens are scheduled to be heard by the Bristol Zoning Commission next month. They were filed jointly by Walgreens and the Gatto company.
“My proposal would not be a Walgreens on that corner,” said Couture.
The zoning applications can move forward, said the mayor, “if Gatto still owns it.”
The Bristol Development Authority, which is already meeting about community development block grant allocations at 4 p.m., couldn’t be specific about its meeting time on the mall issue in the notice posted at City Hall.
The notice said the BDA’s special meeting on the mall issue would be held after its 4 p.m. policy committee finished, “estimated to be as early as 5:30 or as late as 7 p.m.” The only item on the agenda is discussion and action on the referral from the mayor’s downtown project site and planning committee – the acquisition of the entire 17-acre mall property.
Nicastro said it isn’t right that the BDA meeting time is so vague – or that the posting wasn’t made at City Hall until 3:30 p.m. Friday, barely making it legal.
Running what could be concurrently is a special meeting of the city planning commission, which is set for 5:30 p.m. in the public works conference room. The agenda for that session is limited to talk on the mall property purchase. The planning board last year approved the purchase of six acres.
The city’s parking authority is also holding a special meeting, at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Nicastro said the heavy schedule of special meetings this week violates a promise Couture made at the last city council meeting to always have an agenda item that would help people keep track of what was happening downtown.
“The mayor announced that the purpose of that was to keep the public informed of any up and coming meetings on downtown,” said Nicastro. “Here’s three meetings taking place in less than a week of when he made that statement and the public was never notified.”
“And he’s chairman of the BDA, too,” Nicastro added. “This was never mentioned.”
But Couture said the meetings are nothing out of the ordinary. These approvals are something that the mayor’s workshop asked for awhile ago, Couture said, but boards never followed up on it.
“Everybody sort of got lackadaisical about it,” said Couture.
The site committee asked in February that several different city boards take up the question of the 17-acre purchase, said Kosta Diamantis, a Democratic state representative for Bristol who works as an attorney in Couture’s office. Diamantis said those boards included the BDA, the park board, the board of education, the parking authority and the planning commission.
Each one of the boards is meeting on the issue by Thursday, said Diamantis, with the exception of the school board.
Diamantis said the idea was to have the boards pass resolutions supporting the 17-acre purchase before March 21, when consultants for the state and city begin a week-long series of meetings with stakeholders.
“They didn’t take action in February,” Diamantis said. “It was our hope that we would have those resolutions in place” before that week of heavy involvement by the state.
The endorsement of the planning board is crucial to the project, said Diamantis.
“The planning board has already given its approval for seven acres, but we’re asking them to extend it to 17,” said Diamantis.
Couture said the approvals are nothing more than another item on the BDA’s agenda.
The purchase of the mall property would include the mall building, but also the paint store and discount grocery store on the property, said Couture. He said it would not include the Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s that abut the property and are not part of the parcel.
Diamantis said the initial plan to buy just part of the mall property – and let Gatto build on the rest – wouldn’t work.
“Our consultants have indicated that six or seven acres is not sufficient to maximize the public purpose of the project,” said Diamantis.
But Nicastro said Diamantis himself said the size of the parcel the city buys would depend on the outcome of the various studies of the site.
“Have those studies been completed?” Nicastro asked. If so, he said, the public hasn’t been notified.
The preliminary studies made public haven’t been positive on the project, the former mayor said, and instead outlined large operating costs and a poor market for retail and real estate.
“Have the finished reports come out? If they have, they haven’t shared ‘em with anybody,” said Nicastro. “Where’s the final report?”
Instead of rushing to buy the mall property, Nicastro said, city leaders ought to be in Washington, D.C. lobbying hard for money to finish the Route 72 extension. He said the city needs highway access badly.
Without a highway, said Nicastro, the theater couldn’t draw patrons and businesses can’t draw customers.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 6, 2014

SSShhhhhhh!! City hires new downtown consultant

The city quietly hired a consultant his summer to duplicate much of the job assigned to the nonprofit Bristol Downtown Development Corp. overseeing the revitalization of the former mall site.
The city agreed to pay $18,500 to Goman + York Property Advisors, a high-powered East Hartford firm, to provide “specific and actionable” recommendations to the City Council about how to handle proposals from Renaissance Downtowns for the Depot Square project.
Mayor Ken Cockayne said he hired the firm because he “thought we needed an outside, independent review” to go over all the material from Renaissance and offer the council guidance on what to do next.
“I’m doing my due diligence,” the mayor said.
He said he kept the move quiet “to fend off any undue influence” on the consultant that might sway its recommendations. Click here for the full story.

Click here to read the four page document submitted to the city by Goman+York.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com