January 29, 2009

Downtown obsolete, yet vital

Downtown’s headed for the scrap heap.

Not the place, just the word.

“Downtown is an obsolete word. It’s a passé word,” said Mike Nicastro, the president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce.

Instead of calling the traditional downtown what it’s always been known as, Nicastro said he would prefer people refer to it as the “city center” or the “municipal center.”

Speaking to the chamber’s Downtown Business Group – which will need a new name soon – Nicastro said that downtowns have traditionally been the retail and business center of a community.

In Bristol, however, that would clearly be Farmington Avenue these days, not the historic downtown.

Nicastro said the city certainly doesn’t want anyone thinking a state highway that carries people through town is its downtown.

“There are no more downtowns,” Nicastro said at the group’s meeting at the Main Library Thursday.

 David Fortier, a library board member, expressed some sympathy for the idea.

“Words are powerful,” Fortier said.

Nicastro said that he recognizes that words matter.

“I’m a marketing guy by profession. We like our words. I love spin,” he said.

And whatever downtown winds up being called, there’s one thing that’s certain: it will be spelled “center” rather than the fake sophisticated “centre.”

How come?

Because the demolished Bristol Centre Mall used the less conventional spelling. And nobody wants to remind anyone of the vanished mall that stood at the center of downtown for almost four decades until its demolition last winter.

Nicastro said that whatever you call the city center, it’s crucial to revitalize it.

“It’s not just the mall site” that needs attention, he said.

The surrounding areas – Main Street, the West End and beyond – also need attention to create a vibrant area that can attract a new generation that wants nice apartments, restaurants, retailers and more.

Nicastro said the chamber plans to push for just that in the coming years.

He said that as people realize the advantages a densely populated, interesting center offers, from jobs to transportation to culture, they’ll return. It’s a greener alternative to the sprawl that has characterized the state since the 1950s, Nicastro said.

But the community has to rise to the challenge and push forward with the kinds of projects that will help spur growth downtown, from the Main Street streetscape project to the completion of two new schools.

Nicastro said it is “the sizzle that sells the steak” so Bristol needs to give the appearance of a place on the move.

“We can do things to make Bristol more attractive to young people,” said Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, by “creating an environment where people can work, play and live.”

With a fully integrated solution, Nicastro said, “we can be very, very successful.”

Nicastro, who took the helm at the chamber at the start of the year, said that even in the current hard times, there’s work to be done.

“With a down economy comes challenge,” he said, “but also opportunity.”

Next meeting

The Downtown Business Group will meet next at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 25.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


I Wonder said...

Which Nicastro is running for Mayor?

Concerned Conservative said...

The word "downtown" evidently is only obsolete when the $10 million boon-doggle is going no where and there is no plan. And when the "downtown" (which Main, North Main, Riverside Ave. etc will always be) has no marketable value what so ever. This rhetoric is window dressing for more foolishness by incompetent city leadership.

Anonymous said...

Nicastro just made it even more difficult to attract businesses and other activities to "Downtown"!!

What is he thinking?

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike your brother Frank runied our city! I hope your not like him!

Anonymous said...

I mean do they have anything better to worry and talk about here? I dont think the word "downtown" really is the problem here.

Anonymous said...

I am skeptical of anything sketched out that aims to refurbish the infrastructure of "Happy Motoring". To me, this is the epitome of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable -- since car-dependency is absolutely the last thing we need to shore up, given the limitations of our energy supply.
A basic assumption regarding the re-development of Bristol's downtown in the past and now, is that the expansion of Route #72 will undoubtedly supply the motoring consumers necessary to sustain the investment.

I know it is difficult for Americans at every level to imagine a different way-of-life, but we'd better start tuning up our imaginations, because endless motoring is not our destiny anymore.

-- We have to rehabilitate thousands of downtowns all over the nation to accommodate the new re-scaled edition of local and regional trade that will follow the death of national chain - big box retail of WalMart ilk. that now populate Farmington Ave.
These large entities are sustained by cheap oil. Given the future decline or collapse of these entities, Mr. Nicastro is due hopefully for a major "re-think."

Reactivated town centers and Main Streets are indispensable features of walkable communities.
Bristol center or downtown area is still surrounded my vibrant neighborhoods.
These neighborhoods(the South End, the West End, Federal Hill, and the North End) with their inhabitants' required needs of daily life, have all but been forgotten in the wake of the fumes of "Happy Motoring".
Despite Bristol's Town Plan that emphasizes the development of a "walkable community" when it comes to school planning or downtown revitalization, the idea of a "walkable community" is never really embraced..

Mr. Nicastro needs to do better. He APPEARS to be mired and accepting of the failed concepts of the past albeit with a new "word twist", and his acceptance of our ultimate decline as a city is not befitting his new station. True, the working out of these failed models of a city have brought us to our current economic state. But the rediscovery of our neighborhoods as an engine of economic sustanenance and growth now needs to be embraced.

The idea of Bristol's downtown as a "municipal center", or commercial center complete with high rise office reaching out to the world for it's economic sustenance, is a dream reminiscent of the 196O's plan of redevelopment. It didn't work, despite with the reconfigured roadways and unlimited downtown parking to accommodate the auto. I won't work out even when Route 72 is accomplished tomorrow.

Bristol's Chamber of Commerce needs to contact, and consult he Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU.org) on the procedures for accomplishing and for rehabilitating our traditional neighborhoods connected to our Main Streets, and so begin the process of re scaling and re growing our local and regional trade so that it is adjacent to where people actually live.
It’s the Green-Thing to do.

After all, the scaled-down model worked before the cognoscenti decimated the traditional downtown town to bring us the world of “Happy Motoring” and our current scaled-up model of consumerism.
Why not now?

Odin said...

Of course there is a "plan" for downtown. We will sell the Centre Mall property to the developer who offers us the best mix of commercial, retail, residential and public space. Why is this so hard for you to understand?

Anonymous said...

January 30, 2009 10:47 AM

It is easy to sit back and judge. Exactly what have you done for the city.

Also judging by how time Frank was re-elected you are in the minority on your opinion.

By the way do some research on younger brother Mike and you will see that Bristol is lucky to have him.

Anonymous said...

Mike is off to a bad start...He needs to focus on getting his membership up.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Chamber and the new President is getting into politics!

How can he talk about Bristol's Downtown when he also represents a few other Downtowns.

Seems like he has a fine line to walk!

AnonymousWestconnStudent said...

Despite the humor in attacking the criticizing his critique of the use of the word "downtown", there is some merit to the idea that the area does need some new marketing to attract businesses. Because apparently just having a big open hole with a for sale sign on the front isn't doing it.

But for future reference the following words should be banned from public speeches:


If I think of more, I'll let you know.

Reality said...

Hey ..... Changing the name worked for the homo-sexuals ( now GAY ) and for the Communist Party ( now Democratic Party ) so I suppose it will work for Bristol Centre also .

Anonymous said...

Other suggestions for Downtown:

1) Land That Time Forgot
2) The Wasteland
3) Center That Used To Be Bristol
4) Broke Back Square
5) The Twilight Zone
6) $5.300,000 Farmer's Market

Any more suggestions?

Anonymous said...

It's about time that somebody said it! There is no more downtown!!!! It is the city center, so market that...Dwelling on the past keeps us from moving forward!! Let's resell the center, nix the downtown committee!!! I believe that we have a viable market for ushering in the future of small cities....an area where people want to go to see and be seen...be better than the towns around us!!!

Anonymous said...

Whatever moniker whomever wants to give it, until this city's leaders and their appointed committees effectively figure out the way to revitalize and rebuild the community with businesses that appeal to the youth demographic that it is seeking, we might as well just call it the blackhole of Bristol for now and rename the BDDC to the BBHC.
Some great strides have been made along with our stumbles but right now we have a big tarred over parking lot in the middle of our "CENTER". Until someone does something even semi-effective with that area, whatver name we refer to it with.. it isn't going to change a thing.

Anonymous said...

Is Mike a stalking horse for Frank?

Concerned Conservative said...

How about a bottom-less hole to throw money into (for a name)?

Anonymous said...


We can and should start with having the best education system possible.

Anonymous said...

It would be a good place for a college.

Concerned Conservative said...

The land will sit there vacant, until the "powers that be" convince the electorate (or force the issue) that a new city hall complex should be built there.

Anonymous said...

January 30, 2009 1:01 PM

Just what do you think the point of pushing for an improved downtown would be? Think before you write.

Apparently this guy understands that you can't increase membership without new members to join.

Another fire, ready, aim comment.

Anonymous said...


Former Mayor Stortz suggested that the Memorial Blvd School would be good for a college when the city is done with it.

Concerned Conservative said...

Perhaps "downtown" emphasizes being "down" too much? Bristol's downtown can't much worse.

Mike Nicastro does make some good points in this write-up. I think all should give him a chance. He certainly is a breath of fresh air from do-nothing John Leone.

Anonymous said...

"Former Mayor Stortz suggested that the Memorial Blvd School would be good for a college when the city is done with it."

Clown College? Something he knows about.

Anonymous said...

10:44: The college idea is an excellent one. Not only will it provide in-town higher education, which we are sorely lacking, but it will revitalize "downtown." The neighborhood will be upgraded, students will patronize businesses, and the city brings in revenue. I hope the committee is considering this.

Just because an idea is brought forward by some one of the other political party doesn't make it bad. Look at the idea itself before you jump right in and insult the person it came from. Remember: yes, we can!