October 16, 2014
DEMOCRATS RESPOND TO REPUBLICAN LEADERS
There they go again – the Republican Town Committee leaders are on the blog with negative attacks on our Democratic elected officials and candidates. What would be more beneficial to the readers and to the voters are actual ideas and plans. Answers that include: what would you do, and how would you accomplish your goals.
Voters on all levels, local, state and federal are tired of partisan politics. Stop the bickering and the negative campaigning and put a plan into action.
If the Republican leaders are not able to put forth their plans for the City, then, at the very least, they have an obligation to write with some semblance of a factual basis.
First, as to Rob Michalik – let’s look at the facts:
From 1999 to 2009, Plainville had the 11th lowest annualized effective tax increase in the state (out of 169 towns). Rob was on the council for six of those years. Also, while on the town council, Rob spearheaded various efforts to save the town money. For instance, Rob pushed the town to purchase its streetlights from CL&P, thereby saving the town approximately $50,000 per year in maintenance costs. He advocated that an Ebay-like auction procedure be implemented for the sale of bonds, which saved thousands of dollars in interest costs. In addition, Rob championed an aggressive delinquent tax program, which has led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes being collected and reduced the tax burden on those who pay their taxes on time. At DEDC, Rob worked primarily on efforts to help small businesses. He worked on the Small Business Express program, which assisted more than 1,000 small businesses in Connecticut (including several in Bristol) and created or retained thousands of jobs across the state. Rob proudly worked extensively in helping to establish a new Manufacturing Innovation Fund in the state, which will assist small manufacturers in making the investments in equipment, technology and job training to remain competitive, win new businesses and grow jobs.
Rather than focus on the upcoming election of our state candidates, the Republican leaders attack our three Democratic Council members who all have taken a stand on some very difficult issues; slinging mud and calling them hypocrites. In particular, they politicize the downtown/
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu has offered a compromise agreement that does not involve handing over city money to a private entity, but still gives the City a stakeholder position in the development. Council member Zoppo-Sassu has moved a substantial amount of business forward for the City in her eleven months back on the City Council.
They twist Mary Fortier’s statement about Renaissance being the preferred developer and point out that there is now new proposals at Ten Main Street and other sites. These proposals are not on the seventeen acres and Renaissance is not the preferred developer of those new projects, yet it proves Council member Fortier’s point that private development may stimulate what is being proposed on the seventeen acres.
Lastly they criticize Calvin Brown for describing this as an emotional issue for the City and characterize his stance as absurd. Calvin is 22 years old. He was the highest vote getter in Council District 1 and city-wide. Voters identified with his idealism. It is Calvin’s generation that we need to retain and attract in order to maintain our middle class with young families choosing to live here, buy homes here, and put their children in our schools.
The Republican leaders conclude by stating that we cannot afford more of this “leadership.” That is the key word – leadership. Our elected officials and candidates take a stand on the issues. They make their positions known. We welcome and encourage public participation and input. We are willing to engage in meaningful debate. There is too much at stake for negative politics and sitting idle. It’s time to put words into action!
October 13, 2014
October 10, 2014
October 6, 2014
Monday, October 6: The Republican majority on the City Council said this week it won’t take a stand on Depot Square until the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. makes a recommendation.
Mayor Ken Cockayne and the three GOP councilors – Henri Martin, Eric Carlson and Rich Miecznikowski – said that “in the interest of good faith negotiations and contractual agreements” they have to follow the agreed-on process for a decision on the project. LINK
Jennifer Arasimowicz wrote in an Aug. 25 email to the nonprofit’s lawyer that she had “basically laid out how I think the city stupidly set us up for a lawsuit” with its hiring of East Hartford’s Goman + York Property Advisors.
Arasimowicz said in the email that she had laid out the case “in a momentary lapse of all common sense” in a secret email exchange she had in August with Frank Johnson, a BDDC board member and former chairman.
She wrote the email obtained by The Bristol Press to plead with attorney David DeBassio to find a way to keep details of her exchange with Johnson confidential. LINK
Martin Kenny, a Hartford apartment developer, has signed a purchase deal for 10 Main St. that will likely be complete by year’s end. Construction could begin as soon as next spring, he said Thursday
“It’s a great old historical building with great bones, in tremendous condition,” Kenny said.
Kenny and a Bristol firm, D’Amato Construction, pulled out of the Depot Square project in recent weeks to focus on the prospect of creating housing in the five-story building that would not require a city or state subsidy.
“We stepped aside,” Kenny said, calling it “a political football there with the project” planned for the former mall site.
“I want to do something” rather than “going to town meetings and having everybody mad at each other,” he said. LINK
“Renaissance has made a commitment to Bristol and Renaissance deserves renewed commitment from us,” said city Councilor Mary Fortier. “Renaissance has taken risks in Bristol and Bristol needs to move beyond the risk.”
After all, she pointed out, “no one is banging down the doors of city hall for a chance to develop this parcel.”
The three Democratic councilors – Fortier, Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and Calvin Brown – each issued long statements detailing their positions on Renaissance and its Depot Square proposal to revitalize the 15-acre city center site where the mall once stood. LINK (Note: The full statement of each of the councilors is on this blog below.)
October 2, 2014
Press release from Mayor Ken Cockayne and the three Republican city councilors:
Bristol, CT: On October 2, 2014, GOP Council Caucus Official Statement on Depot Square Project
The Depot Square project is currently in the hands of the BDDC, as it has been over the last several years. A project decision schedule has been outlined and adhered to, and that process will continue to be followed.
While we appreciate our Democratic council colleagues offering their opinions on the project in public, we are refraining from issuing a public position on the project until the BDDC makes their final recommendation to the City Council, thereby placing the authority in the City Council's hands to render a decision. In the interest of good faith negotiations and contractual agreements, this is the process that must be followed, has been followed, and will continue to be followed.
The beliefs we can share with the public regarding the project are the following:
- We believe that redeveloping downtown is a crucial part of the City's long-term financial viability, economic growth, and image.
- We believe in fiscal conservatism and ensuring that current and future generations are not being saddled with unaffordable tax liabilities.
- We believe that the public should have input in the final decision, particularly if government or taxpayer dollars are to be used.
This is where we currently stand, and as we've said, once every option is explored and the BDDC offers its final recommendations, the public will be informed of the details and options, public feedback will be requested through a variety of means, and our opinions will be detailed for our constituents.
Ken Cockayne, Mayor of Bristol
Eric Carlson, City Council - District 1
Henri Martin, City Council - District 2
Richard Miecznikowski, City Council - District 2
September 26, 2014
Since elected officials were not allowed to comment at last week’s public hearing, I join my Democratic City Council colleagues, Calvin Brown and Mary Fortier, in issuing a statement on downtown so our constituents will know where we stand.
My biggest concern at this time is the dueling perceptions of Bristol residents not wanting to invest in themselves. We CAN have a vibrant downtown. And I think we CAN address people’s concerns so that we achieve an outcome that the majority supports.
In 2005 the city wisely voted to purchase the old mall as a means of controlling our own destiny and shaping our own future. We wanted our citizens to come downtown for more than just city services.
Then, some potential plans called for a new Boys & Girls Club to be relocated on the Mall property, as well as a field house and some mixed use retail, office space and a parking structure. The voters who came to those public hearings objected to the land being used by entities that would not generate tax revenue. In late 2006, the Mall site was on the short list for the location of the new West Bristol School, but people again objected and the school was eventually built on a remote section of Chippens Hill.
Today, people are asking why the new Club, built on a small parcel on West Street, couldn’t have been built facing Brackett Park? Why is the new school as far west as it could possibly be while still being considered a Bristol school? The fact that the hue and cry from angry citizens 10 years ago that prevented either of these plans from happening is indeed ironic. Recently the discussion has turned to more open space and a synthetic field from the school of "something is better than nothing" and "let’s get something going," even though the economic benefits of these scenarios would be marginal at best.
Are we destined to repeat history? I sure hope not. But our track record is not great for getting it right, dating back to the problems surrounding downtown urban renewal in the 1960s and early 1970s.
So what do I think today, after being back on the City Council for almost a year and being immersed (again) in a variety of reports, data, and public hearings on downtown?
First, I understand why people are opposed to investing $6 million of taxpayer money into a private investment when the economy is only slightly improving and people are watching every dollar. There are a lot of unknowns that would have to be hammered out with the City having an equity stake and deed restrictions if public money were part of the equation.
I understand that people want a say and are asking for a referendum. But what is the question? Are we asking taxpayers to approve the plan as presented, or is it about the $6 million that Renaissance asked for from the City?
They have now publicly stated that they are no longer asking for $6 million so this now appears to be off the table as a main argument for referendum.
Through the City’s 5 Year Capital Improvement Program, the City spends millions each year on projects that the taxpayers don’t even know about, much less have input into or for many, even know they are occurring or how they are funded.
For example, in the spring of 2013, the then-elected officials approved a $6 million renovation project for the Fire Department’s Engine 4 – a fire house located off of Route 229 next to the Public Works Yard and the Sewer Plant. Let’s just think about the irony of this for a minute – there is currently a $6 million project – the same amount as was being discussed for downtown - being launched for ONE fire house, in the southeast section of the city - that no one is talking about. A project that even many of the firefighters think is ridiculous.
The amount being spent would still be ridiculous if it was for the fire headquarters on North Main Street, but at least one could weakly argue that the $6 million would at least be benefiting a building that was more centrally visible and part of downtown.
So philosophically, if we are already bonding $6 million for a firehouse, why couldn’t we transfer that money to the downtown project that would benefit the entire community? Since it’s already budgeted, the taxpayers would feel nothing, and the Engine 4 fire house expansion could be put on the shelf for another year. Or better yet, put these large-ticket items up for referendum.
I know that Bristol has a lot of housing in the downtown area. Some of it has been the subject of code enforcement actions and we must also acknowledge that third floor apartments in restored Victorians do not appeal to all young professionals. I can support some new housing construction in downtown, but I have not supported the number of housing units that Renaissance desires. I think that is too much density for this site but if they build it, I do hope they fill it with the type of sustained residential population that will represent the 7 day a week customer base that businesses need to thrive.
I think we need to compromise and get the ball rolling. The City of Bristol should offer to partner with Renaissance with in-kind services to help them achieve their financial package needs. This would mean taking responsibility for the creation of the Piazza, roads and sidewalks, street lights, a shared parking plan for all parcels, and the necessary hook-ups for water and sewer. While this may amount to less than $2 million in city costs and services, it would be way to demonstrate support and buy-in in an area where the City has experience and ability. The City can also be of assistance by continuing its aggressive marketing and business recruitment activities on other parcels that will bolster downtown – the recent sale of 10 Main Street, the former Press building and helping other downtown landlords fill their spaces – as well as supporting projects such as the Memorial Boulevard which is another piece of the puzzle.
I think both the Renaissance work and some of the recommendations of the Goman + York report go back to what we knew in 2005 – sometimes a public driver is needed to stimulate private investment. Whether it’s going to be a Piazza or skating rink or something else, the City of Bristol needs to have a role. And I would really love to see ESPN involved as a partner in designing housing tailored to their employees’ needs.
Last spring, I talked to a number of local developers and real estate experts about their thoughts on downtown. One theme that did emerge from all of these separate conversations was making the project more manageable. Renaissance needs to be encouraged in their role as gatekeeper and the preferred developer to bring other developers to the table for the remaining parcels. We have design and zoning regulations for downtown in place and with careful, collaborative efforts, we could possibly have several developers at the table at the same time, all working with Renaissance to create a synergy for the 15 acres.
I like that the Mayor called a joint meeting of the BDDC and City Council. We all need to show leadership, keep the lines of communication open, and continue to work together and decide on a path that works for everyone and gets shovels in the ground sooner rather than later. While the Democrats have not been at the table for the negotiations, I think I speak for all of us when I say we are anxious to be part of the solution.
No downtowns are perfect. They are all, regardless of size and demographics, a work in progress with a mix of businesses that appeal to some people and not others. But if Southington, Plantsville, and New Britain can re-build their downtowns with a mix of government center, independent retail and restaurants and other activities, so can we.
In fact, we have a blank slate of 17 acres to draw our future. It’s time we got our paints and start putting color on the canvas.