Instead of the pile of downtown revitalization proposals they’d hoped for, development officials Friday found themselves looking at a single plan.
But they what they saw impressed them.
“Our battle cry all along is: it only takes one,” said Frank Johnson, chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp.
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based Heritage Financial Group, which hopes to win the right to develop the 17-acre former mall site, submitted a concept that included about 600,000-square-feet of new office, retail space and housing.
It included a new train station, a “cascading stream with waterfalls” and a spray park, a grocery store, a movie theater, a rooftop pool, a fountain, an amphitheater and bandstand and other amenities aimed at creating “a live, work, play community.”
As he scanned a diagram of the concept, John Lodovico, a downtown commissioner, said, “It’s pretty impressive. They put a lot of thought into this.”
“It does look nice,” said city Purchasing Agent Roger Rousseau.
The plan was submitted by the Los Angeles-based Cielo Real Estate Investment Group on behalf of the developer. A Florida architect, Mark Basham, designed the conceptual scheme.
Calls to the various firms involved in the plan were not returned late Friday.
But Jaimee Parker, with Cielo, said several months ago that he’s been keeping an eye on the city’s project for four years. He said his firm was eager to get involved with it and promised to come up with something the community could back.
Parker said he’d talked with area construction firms, business leaders, government officials and others to work out what might be done with the site.
The conceptual plan is chock full of items that people have said they’d like to see, from a trolley system to old-time sidewalk vendors.
It mentions stores as varied as Ann Taylor and the Sports Authority. Restaurants cited range from an ESPN Zone to an Olive Garden, though McDonald’s would gain the key corner at Riverside Avenue and Main Street.
However, there’s no indication any of the retailers or restaurants are on board with the plan yet – the developer said only that they’ve been contacted – and ESPN at least has said several times that it’s not interested in putting one of its restaurants in Bristol.
Mayor Art Ward, who’s not a member of the non-profit BDDC created to oversee revitalization of the former mall property, said he's anxious to review the plan and "looking forward to future development."
Lodovico said the details wowed him.
“They’ve covered from A to Z here. They’ve covered everything,” he said.
Calling the project Depot Square, the name picked through a library contest this spring, the developer said it aims to make “an enchanting atmosphere" of ‘Old Bristol’ that would “create an atmosphere and ambiance, beckoning people throughout Hartford County and beyond to not only visit, but stay for hours walking the cityscape avenues, meandering through the adjacent trails” along a new Railroad Park and “cooling off around the surrounding fountains, streams and waterfalls in the summer” or ice skating in the winter.
The key, the developer said, is to make a centralized dining section that would include a plaza for sitting, shopping and walking around.
The plan claims that the Depot Square it envisions “will redefine Bristol, positioning Bristol to transform itself into a true destination location while supplying the building blocks for a growing and strengthening Bristol economy.”
The city made most of the plan public after media protests Friday but kept secret an appendix titled "Acquisition Terms & Conditions - Letters of Intent." The Press has a Freedom of Information request pending to review the entire document, including the appendix.
Officials have long said they are counting on regaining at least the money they paid for the site, which is actually owed to the $17 million rainy day fund kept by the comptroller’s office.
The city purchased the decrepit mall for $5.3 million in 2005. It was torn down this winter after a prolonged legal fight to oust Ocean State Job Lot finally succeeded.
What happens now?
The Bristol Downtown Development Corp. will review the plan soon.
Frank Johnson, chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., said the nonprofit’s June 16 meeting will no doubt focus almost entirely on the proposal.
Assuming that officials choose to pursue the idea further, they would likely meet with the developer later in June and could perhaps name it the preferred developer ahead of the July 31 target for making a decision.
After choosing a preferred developer – at this point, it can only be the Fla.-based Heritage Financial Group or nobody – the BDDC and the developer would meet with state economic development leaders to hash out details of possible funding.
A final plan is likely to look quite different from the initial concept, officials have long said, because of the need to make choices about what to fund and who should pay.
When the city first embarked on a downtown revitalization effort, former Gov. John Rowland promised $45 million in state aid, but that means little now.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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