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.”
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.”
The Downtown Business Group will meet next at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 25.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org