City Councilor David Mills issued this statement today under the heading "An Opportunity Missed," about the Real Estate Committee's decision last week to reject the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce proposal for the reuse of Memorial Boulevard School:
|City Councilor David Mills|
This week, the Real Estate Committee rejected a worthy proposal that would, in my opinion, improve Bristol’s quality of life and preserve a valuable asset for generations to come.
Let me present some background on the issue. The Bristol Board of Education closed the Memorial Boulevard School, as well as two other schools, as of September 1st of this year. As chairman of the Building Committee, I received many inquiries from Bristol taxpayers who felt that this building was an important landmark in the city that must be maintained. I decided to discover why so many people named this Rockwell creation on their must-save list.
The Memorial Boulevard building is a gem that holds great promise for our community. The auditorium of this school is reminiscent of a New York City theater, with a 4.5-story fly space above the stage. This site has the potential to house a variety of productions, from touring musicals and dramas to film, travelogue, and children’s theater. Professionals in the technical production industry, including representatives from the reconditioned Palace Theatre, recently toured the auditorium, and were struck by its many possibilities. They strongly feel that this unique facility should not be compromised, and have offered recommendations for its improvement and usage.
The renovation of this space offers some exciting development opportunities. However, the greatest challenge would be funding. As the plan developed, conversations began with Chamber of Commerce President Michael Nicastro, John Smith who as former Assistant Superintendent of Schools has vast knowledge of the building, Sean Taylor, businessman and Treasurer of Bristol Theater Arts, and others. They all agreed these theater improvements and an arts program could be sustained using the rest of the Memorial Boulevard building as an “economic engine” that would help pay for the auditorium improvement project. Under this plan, start-ups and arts-related businesses will rent space at below-market rates. The building would need minimal reconfiguration, allowing existing building codes to prevail.
The Chamber of Commerce presented an outline of their plan to the Building Committee, and the matter was turned over to the Real Estate Committee.
When the city put out an RFP (Request for proposal) for a future use for the building, the Chamber of Commerce submitted its plan. As it turned out, it was the ONLY plan submitted.
The Real Estate Committee rejected the Chamber’s proposal, purportedly on the basis that there were “too many unanswered questions.” This despite the fact that, at a special meeting arranged for the Chamber to answer the committee’s questions, there were no questions asked. Instead, the committee simply set another meeting so that municipal departments could come forth and detail other uses they might have.
By rejecting this proposal, the Real Estate Committee has missed an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the city of Bristol. This plan would provide a state-of-the-art theater and art space for our community. It would attract new businesses to the city, especially technology, media, and bio science companies. It would create more activity downtown and create momentum for development. It would establish a cultural center for arts and community activities, providing entertainment that would enrich the lives of our citizens.
I urge our city leaders to reconsider this plan and to take the following actions:
- Convene a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, as well as building and fire inspectors, to review the requirements for bringing the building up to code.
- Arrange a meeting between the Corporate Council and the Chamber to hammer out a time-sensitive lease agreement to protect the interests of both parties, with a measured result.
- Realize that government does not have all the answers. Engaging in a Private/Public partnership could be the best path to creating a vibrant Arts, Cultural and Business center.
This facility could be an enormous asset for our community and for future generations. At present, it is an empty building that costs the city a minimum of $10,000 per month to maintain.
The Real Estate Committee has squandered an opportunity to move Bristol development forward. We are left with another empty building, our fourth, adding to the budget deficit, with no plan in sight.
We have a chance to develop a unique space that will enhance our community. Let’s not miss that opportunity again.