September 11, 2013

Renaissance issues update on downtown project

Bristol Rising Charging Ahead
Developer and Community Meet Key Milestones 
By Ryan Porter, VP of Renaissance Downtowns

The past couple of years have seen a tremendous amount of positive activity in regard to the redevelopment of Depot Square and Bristol’s downtown. Led by Master Developer Renaissance Downtowns and the Bristol Rising community, key approvals and rezoning efforts are complete, positioning Bristol’s downtown for transformative development. 

With financing efforts at the forefront and the more publicized visibility of the approval process mostly behind us, we felt it was the right time to create a column to better inform the masses on our current and future efforts on the development.   

On a personal note, it’s been gratifying working with such a great community and a municipality that gets it. The Bristol Rising community’s response has been overwhelming in what has been one of the most transparent redevelopment efforts in this country’s history, a tradition we will work to continue with this column. This three-way collaborative was highlighted during the approval processes, which has led to the implementation phase of the project, and brings us to today.

Currently, Renaissance has been working diligently to put the final pieces together in anticipation of the upcoming groundbreaking by finalizing financing for the initial phase of the development. The thing most people aren’t aware of is the complexity required to finance and develop new construction in this day and age. It takes creative partnerships, creative financing, and long negotiations to pull it all together. We’re inching closer each day, requiring our utmost attention and inherently less spotlight. 

It’s important to note that when Renaissance Downtowns was designated by the City of Bristol as Master Developer, numerous milestones were established for this public/private partnership. Due to our excellent working relationship with our municipal partner and the Bristol Rising community, the initial concept planning and zoning milestones were achieved at an extraordinary pace. This accelerated process led to the approval of an engineered Site Plan for Phase 1 in February of 2013, along with the recent completion of the new McDonald’s in a manner that is consistent with the overall goals and objectives of the public/private partnership. I have never before seen a municipality move the ball forward as has been done here, and as a result of the City’s desire to see progress occur, revitalization efforts are 6-8 months ahead of schedule.

Regarding McDonalds, it’s important to emphasize that moving the old franchise was necessary for new development to occur, and had particular implications on financing the project. We’re now nearing completion of this stage with McDonald’s now open in their new building on North Main Street, and with several weeks to go before the old McDonald’s will be demolished to make way for our development. 
Now that things are where they are, financing efforts have been ratcheted up significantly the past 3-5 months, when it was known the McDonald’s move was a certainty. We continue to work with a number of interested parties on hammering out a deal, doing our best to keep you better informed on our efforts moving forward. 
To that end, we are presently in discussions with multiple regional/national development firms as well as foreign and domestic private equity financing sources to demonstrate to them, the economic viability of downtown Bristol in regard to innovative, mixed-use development. The overwhelming number of signed letters of interest from both local and regional residents expressing a desire to move into the new development downtown continues to assist us in our efforts.   

On the community side, Bristol Rising has been programming and conducting innovative events and initiatives which have already added vibrancy to and awareness of downtown. They are currently working to improve the existing downtown business landscape by offering the power of crowd to businesses like Mike’s Tortoise & Hare Caf√©. In June, Bristol Rising helped launch a Shared Retail initiative where for three weekends small business vendors occupied a vacant storefront to help add life to a previously empty downtown location. Every little bit is helping the overall cause in showing Bristol as a place that desires a walkable, vibrant center of commerce and social activity. This is proven by new entrepreneurs stepping forward each month expressing interest in opening businesses downtown.

I know that we are all anxious to see more shovels in the ground but our success thus far has not come with compromising on quality and we continue to ensure that our partnerships share that requirement. That said, as we reflect and celebrate our significant victories and accomplishments to date we will continue our relentless pursuit of greatness for Bristol while keeping everyone informed along the way.
Ryan Porter

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