December 10, 2012

Martin 'bothered' by colleagues' choice to reject chamber plan for Memorial Boulevard

City Councilor Henri Martin just issued this statement re the decision of the city's Real Estate Committee recently to reject a plan for Memorial Boulevard School's reuse by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce:

City Councilor Henri Martin, left,
with Mayor Art Ward and
Councilors Ken Cockayne
and Kevin Fuller trailing
I’m bothered and disagree with the recent decision by the Real Estate Committee of the City of Bristol to initiate a new RFP (Request for proposal) regarding the future use of Memorial Boulevard School. Further I disagree with the member’s decision to discuss this matter in an executive session rather than in public.

In its proposal, the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce submitted a viable plan which I believe answered the wishes of our community — to protect and find a potential re-use for this historic property. The plan was visionary and provided innovative ideas for economic development to Bristol through the creation of an arts center that included the preservation and future improvements of the theatre, and a business incubator for start up entrepreneurs in the technology, media and bio-fields.

At its last Real Estate workshop, with a change of use from a building educating students to the anticipated use the Chamber was proposing, city department officials offered their views of ADA updates, fire and building code deficiencies, and future capitol improvement costs that may lay ahead for any intended use.  Revealing these facts and costs may have worried the committee, but should not have warranted the rejection of the Chambers proposal or a motion and approval to request a new RFP.

I understand the city’s budget is under pressure, but imagine the unknown costs associated with the innovative idea of ESPN back in 1978/79 that gave city officials reason to pause. Thank God we pressed forward. In my opinion, revealing all the facts and costs only facilitates a better understanding of the risks for all involved.

The proposal was an opportunity for the City and Chamber to develop a Public/Private partnership, thus allowing them to work together to preserve the theatre and building, and simultaneously bring some kind of economic development in the downtown area. We need new innovative vision—not the same old same old.

Downtown needs energy; art energy, entrepreneurial energy, young professional energy, upscale energy, community energy—and the Chamber’s proposal offered all of this. Unfortunately this didn’t happen.  After a questionable executive session meeting, the committee decided to start the process all over again.

The Real Estate committee failed to work collaboratively with the Chamber to determine if a format could be established which met both their and the City’s goal. The process was instead adversarial in nature which was not fair to the Chamber and does a disservice to our citizens.

If the Real Estate Committee was worried about the potential costs mentioned by the department officials or had unanswered questions; those details could have been addressed during negotiations between the City and the Chamber before any final lease document was executed. The concept was still sound.

City officials should be working collectively with our business partners in the Chamber to achieve the goal of the community to preserve the historic Memorial Boulevard School. In the end, we either may have had an agreement that met the needs of both sides, or maybe it wouldn’t have worked for the either, but the decision would have been reached in a cooperative manner rather than the way it did.

Unfortunately, the Chamber has decided to withdraw its proposal and not respond to the new RFP, and given the nature of the process which was followed who can blame them.

Now we’re back to square one…

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

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