November 4, 2014

Voting today in Bristol, updated for 8 a.m. counts

In the first hour of voting today in Bristol, turnout totaled 4 percent the city's 31,499 registered voters.
Turnout was highest at Chippens Hill Middle School, witi 6 percent of voters showing up at the polls before 7 a.m., and lowest the Bristol Elks Club, where only 2 percent made an early appearance.
Overall, the turnout rate matched the rate of the 2010 election, which wound up with 54 percent casting a ballot, the same rate as the city saw during the 2002 gubernatorial race.

UPDATE FOR 8 a.m. --
Turnout reached 9 percent by 8 a.m., the same figure Bristol saw in 2010's gubernatorial race at the same time. The highest turnout is at Chippens Hill, at 12 percent, while the Elks Club and Mt. View School are at 7 percent each.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 29, 2014

Mailings turn negative in Senate race's final days (Updated at 11 a.m.)

I've asked both candidates in the 31st District state Senate race about these mailers, which I won't characterize except to say that many of the people receiving them have told me they are offensive.
I don't know who started it. I only know these exist.
I flipped a coin to see whose mailers would be posted first, but the order means nothing. You can click on the images to see a larger version.
First, here's one that the Republicans sent out about Democratic contender Rob Michalik:





And here are a couple from Michalik's campaign about Republican contender Henri Martin:


And in black and white:



And this one:


And in black and white:



If anyone can provide me with better copies, I'd love to have them. I asked the campaigns to send me copies as well.
Anybody who's interested in expressing their opinion of them for a news story, feel free to send me a note at scollins@bristolpress.com. Be sure to include your name and let me know if you're connected to the political world somehow.
Update at 10:30 a.m.: Martin sent along a half dozen copies of mailings his campaign has used. Here they are.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 28, 2014

Is the mall site's future coming into focus?

When you put the pieces together, it sure looks as if city leaders have something in mind for the 15 empty acres where the mall once stood on North Main Street.
They seem to have worked out a compromise that sets up this situation:
1. Renaissance gets until Jan. 31 to come up with a financing plan for a building along Main Street that is mostly market-rate apartments, but its ground floor would have commercial space that, with luck, would wind up including a restaurant or two.
2. The city will spend about $2 million on infrastructure work on the site that includes streets, lights, water and sewer pipes and such. It would also include the much-discussed public piazza behind the building on Main Street.
3. The Bristol Downtown Development Corp., which has overseen the project since former Mayor William Stortz set up the nonprofit to keep former economic development director Jonathan Rosenthal out of it, will likely disband, handing oversight of the parcel to the Bristol Development Authority and its energetic new leader,Justin Malley.
4. After Jan. 31, if Renaissance doesn't have an approved plan in place -- and city leaders doubt it will be ready by then -- other developers can step in to move forward with the overall Depot Square plan. That sounds better than it probably is in real life because nobody's waiting in the wings and, in truth, only Renaissance has the background to keep pressing ahead quickly.
5. Except... Bristol Hospital's interest in putting up 60,000 square feet of new medical offices, which are inherent top-notch, high-quality spaces, makes for a potentially critical shift in the picture we've been seeing. If the hospital were to work something out to put those offices, which it wants in the downtown area, on the ex-mall site, then suddenly the prospects for swift development pick up sharply.
Yes, there are issues about parking and questions about whether medical offices attract the young people and empty nesters eyed by Renaissance to fuel its pedestrian-friendly urban center concept. But there have always been questions about parking.
Perhaps Mayor Ken Cockayne's boosterism for Tom Foley may come in handy should the GOP gubernatorial candidate win next Tuesday. If that happens, there would be a governor who might be more amenable to having the state pay for a parking garage, for instance. But even a second-term Gov. Dannel Malloy might be willing. The state has expressed support for revitalizing downtown Bristol for a decade or more. At some point, it has to put up some money to make that talk mean something.
Of course, there's no guarantee that any of the pieces of this puzzle will ultimately fit together. It could remain a dusty jumble of competing notions for years to come.
But there is a glimmer of hope there that with luck and care, Depot Square might become something more than a pretty picture on a Renaissance slide show.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 16, 2014

Marketing panel set up for Bristol

The city's temporary marketing committee became a permanent one this week.
"We are ready to move into the next phase," Mayor Ken Cockayne said.
Replacing the ad hoc panel that led the effort to create the "Bristol - All Heart" campaign will make it possible for the city to ensure that somebody's keeping close tabs on marketing opportunities.
Cockayne appointed five men to the committee: former city Councilor David Mills, who led the earlier panel; Howard Schmelder, a longtime Bristol Development Authority commissioner; John Smith, vice chairman of the Board of Finance; Mickey Goldwasser, another veteran BDA commissioner; and Jack Ferraro, who's done lots of volunteer work on the Memorial Boulevard School project and the Mum Festival.
All served on the earlier marketing committee.
Still, it's curious that a committee established to try to sell the city consists solely of older white men.
Trying to sell the city without including women, young people, minorities or others who don't fit the demographics of City Hall's typical profile is at least a questionable move.
But not a single city councilor piped up to ask about it.
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Democrats: Republicans should stick to facts

The other day, city Democratic Chairman Dean Kilbourne and Vice Chairman Bill Wolfe sent along this response to a recent GOP open letter:

DEMOCRATS RESPOND TO REPUBLICAN LEADERS


There they go again – the Republican Town Committee leaders are on the blog with negative attacks on our Democratic elected officials and candidates.  What would be more beneficial to the readers and to the voters are actual ideas and plans.  Answers that include: what would you do, and how would you accomplish your goals.


Voters on all levels, local, state and federal are tired of partisan politics.  Stop the bickering and the negative campaigning and put a plan into action.

If the Republican leaders are not able to put forth their plans for the City, then, at the very least, they have an obligation to write with some semblance of a factual basis.

First, as to Rob Michalik – let’s look at the facts: 

From 1999 to 2009, Plainville had the 11th lowest annualized effective tax increase in the state (out of 169 towns).  Rob was on the council for six of those years.  Also, while on the town council, Rob spearheaded various efforts to save the town money.  For instance, Rob pushed the town to purchase its streetlights from CL&P, thereby saving the town approximately $50,000 per year in maintenance costs.  He advocated that an Ebay-like auction procedure be implemented for the sale of bonds, which saved thousands of dollars in interest costs.  In addition, Rob championed an aggressive delinquent tax program, which has led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes being collected and reduced the tax burden on those who pay their taxes on time.  At DEDC, Rob worked primarily on efforts to help small businesses.  He worked on the Small Business Express program, which assisted more than 1,000 small businesses in Connecticut (including several in Bristol) and created or retained thousands of jobs across the state.  Rob proudly worked extensively in helping to establish a new Manufacturing Innovation Fund in the state, which will assist small manufacturers in making the investments in equipment, technology and job training to remain competitive, win new businesses and grow jobs.

Rather than focus on the upcoming election of our state candidates, the Republican leaders attack our three Democratic Council members who all have taken a stand on some very difficult issues; slinging mud and calling them hypocrites.  In particular, they politicize the downtown/
Renaissance issue. 

Ellen Zoppo-Sassu has offered a compromise agreement that does not involve handing over city money to a private entity, but still gives the City a stakeholder position in the development.  Council member Zoppo-Sassu has moved a substantial amount of business forward for the City in her eleven months back on the City Council. 

They twist Mary Fortier’s statement about Renaissance being the preferred developer and point out that there is now new proposals at Ten Main Street and other sites.  These proposals are not on the seventeen acres and Renaissance is not the preferred developer of those new projects, yet it proves Council member Fortier’s point that private development may stimulate what is being proposed on the seventeen acres.

Lastly they criticize Calvin Brown for describing this as an emotional issue for the City and characterize his stance as absurd.  Calvin is 22 years old.  He was the highest vote getter in Council District 1 and city-wide.  Voters identified with his idealism.  It is Calvin’s generation that we need to retain and attract in order to maintain our middle class with young families choosing to live here, buy homes here, and put their children in our schools.

The Republican leaders conclude by stating that we cannot afford more of this “leadership.”  That is the key word – leadership.  Our elected officials and candidates take a stand on the issues.  They make their positions known.  We welcome and encourage public participation and input.  We are willing to engage in meaningful debate.  There is too much at stake for negative politics and sitting idle.  It’s time to put words into action!

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Council to meet on Oct. 30 about Renaissance

The special City Council session on Renaissance and Depot Square is slated for 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30 in the council chambers at City Hall.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 6, 2014

GOP takes aim at Democrats on issues

Republican leaders just sent this out:

Over the past two weeks, we have heard from numerous candidates and elected officials on topics of interest to the community, including unfunded mandate relief, taxation, and Depot Square.

We’ve heard from Democrat State Representative Chris Wright that he supports unfunded mandate relief, yet in his six years as a representative of the 77th District, Chris has presented ZERO bills to the State Legislature to rescind, repeal, suspend, or alter any unfunded mandates.

Derek Czenczelewski
We’ve heard from Democrat State Senate Candidate Rob Michalik that he believes the State needs to get its fiscal house in order, and that our taxation woes have stalled economic recovery. This we can certainly agree with, but the source of the statement leaves us skeptical. Rob has served as a member of the Economic Development Staffs to US Congressman Chris Murphy and Governor Malloy, yet we have nothing to show for it other than millions of taxpayer dollars going towards multi-millionaires to move their companies from one Connecticut town to another. Further, as an elected official on the Plainville Town Council, Rob Michalik repeatedly supported tax increases on his constituents.

We’ve heard from the three Democrat City Councilors that the City should be open to providing in-kind services, such as road paving, sidewalk construction, and other infrastructure upgrades necessary to promote downtown’s revitalization, as well as waiving fees such as costly sewer connection fees. Yet just last year, then-Candidate Zoppo questioned the Council for waiving building fees for the $10+ Million, privately financed new home for the Bristol Boys and Girls Club. Citing what she felt was a slippery slope that would lead to other groups requesting similar waivers, it now seems that she has completely changed course and believes that waiving fees and spending additional taxpayer money on private development makes sense.

This shouldn't come as a surprise as Councilor Zoppo voted in favor of purchasing the mall property with taxpayer funds in 2005. What is surprising is her apparent frustration with the process for handling the mall property – a process she was instrumental in creating years ago.

We’ve heard from Councilor Fortier that “no one is banging down the doors of City Hall for a chance to develop this parcel”, yet two developers, including a local, intend on re-developing Ten Main Street, while another group has its eyes set on redeveloping the former Bristol Press building. It should be pointed out to Councilor Fortier that as the Preferred Developer, Renaissance Downtowns is currently the ONLY developer who has exclusive development rights to Depot Square, rendering her point moot. It’s tough to gauge interest when opportunity does not exist.

We’ve heard the romantic words of Councilor Brown equating downtown Bristol to a heart in need of surgery – at any cost. We honestly can’t even comprehend how desperate, absurd, and irresponsible that statement is. It shows a complete disregard for the public’s financial stability and cost of living, and is the exact kind of decision making that leads to bigger issues down the road.

Of course, none of these examples of hypocrisy can top Governor Dannel Malloy’s comments from four years ago when he said “the last thing we are going to do is raise taxes.” This statement was followed shortly thereafter by Malloy passing the largest tax increase in State history. And what do we have to show for this tax increase? Did it solve the Legislature’s spending problems? Nope. In fact, the state of Connecticut is facing multi-billion deficits for the next two years. How will that deficit be closed? Based on previous actions and track records, if Governor Malloy or any of these Democrat candidates for office are elected (or re-elected), our spending habits will be “fixed” from additional massive tax increases. We cannot afford more of this leadership.

Sincerely,

Derek Czenczelewski, Bristol RTC Chairman

Jeff Caggiano, Bristol RTC Vice Chairman

Tom Hick, Bristol RTC 2nd Vice Chairman

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

What's going on with Renaissance?

Developments are piling up quickly so I figured I'd put up some links to help anyone who's lost track:

Monday, October 6: The Republican majority on the City Council said this week it won’t take a stand on Depot Square until the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. makes a recommendation.
Mayor Ken Cockayne and the three GOP councilors – Henri Martin, Eric Carlson and Rich Miecznikowski – said that “in the interest of good faith negotiations and contractual agreements” they have to follow the agreed-on process for a decision on the project. LINK

Saturday, October 4: Bristol Downtown Development Corp. leaders are worried about potential litigation in the wake of the city’s hiring of an outside consultant to review the financial plans submitted by Renaissance Downtowns for the initial phase of the proposed Depot Square project.
Jennifer Arasimowicz wrote in an Aug. 25 email to the nonprofit’s lawyer that she had “basically laid out how I think the city stupidly set us up for a lawsuit” with its hiring of East Hartford’s Goman + York Property Advisors.
Arasimowicz said in the email that she had laid out the case “in a momentary lapse of all common sense” in a secret email exchange she had in August with Frank Johnson, a BDDC board member and former chairman.
She wrote the email obtained by The Bristol Press to plead with attorney David DeBassio to find a way to keep details of her exchange with Johnson confidential. LINK

Friday, October 3:  A Hartford-based multi-unit housing developer who partnered until recently with Renaissance Downtowns has agreed to buy an historic Main Street office building.
Martin Kenny, a Hartford apartment developer, has signed a purchase deal for 10 Main St. that will likely be complete by year’s end. Construction could begin as soon as next spring, he said Thursday
“It’s a great old historical building with great bones, in tremendous condition,” Kenny said.
Kenny and a Bristol firm, D’Amato Construction, pulled out of the Depot Square project in recent weeks to focus on the prospect of creating housing in the five-story building that would not require a city or state subsidy.
“We stepped aside,” Kenny said, calling it “a political football there with the project” planned for the former mall site.
“I want to do something” rather than “going to town meetings and having everybody mad at each other,” he said. LINK

Tuesday, Sept. 30:  With a showdown on the future of Renaissance Downtowns drawing near, a partisan split has developed at City Hall as the three Democratic city councilors endorsed the developer while their Republican counterparts remained on the sidelines.
“Renaissance has made a commitment to Bristol and Renaissance deserves renewed commitment from us,” said city Councilor Mary Fortier. “Renaissance has taken risks in Bristol and Bristol needs to move beyond the risk.”
After all, she pointed out, “no one is banging down the doors of city hall for a chance to develop this parcel.”
The three Democratic councilors – Fortier, Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and Calvin Brown – each issued long statements detailing their positions on Renaissance and its Depot Square proposal to revitalize the 15-acre city center site where the mall once stood. LINK (Note: The full statement of each of the councilors is on this blog below.)



Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 2, 2014

Republicans say they'll wait to take a stand on Renaissance

Press release from Mayor Ken Cockayne and the three Republican city councilors: 

Bristol, CT: On October 2, 2014, GOP Council Caucus Official Statement on Depot Square Project
The Depot Square project is currently in the hands of the BDDC, as it has been over the last several years. A project decision schedule has been outlined and adhered to, and that process will continue to be followed. 

While we appreciate our Democratic council colleagues offering their opinions on the project in public, we are refraining from issuing a public position on the project until the BDDC makes their final recommendation to the City Council, thereby placing the authority in the City Council's hands to render a decision. In the interest of good faith negotiations and contractual agreements, this is the process that must be followed, has been followed, and will continue to be followed. 

The beliefs we can share with the public regarding the project are the following:
  • We believe that redeveloping downtown is a crucial part of the City's long-term financial viability, economic growth, and image.
  • We believe in fiscal conservatism and ensuring that current and future generations are not being saddled with unaffordable tax liabilities. 
  • We believe that the public should have input in the final decision, particularly if government or taxpayer dollars are to be used. 
 This is where we currently stand, and as we've said, once every option is explored and the BDDC offers its final recommendations, the public will be informed of the details and options, public feedback will be requested through a variety of means, and our opinions will be detailed for our constituents.

Sincerely,
Ken Cockayne, Mayor of Bristol
Eric Carlson, City Council - District 1
Henri Martin, City Council - District 2
Richard Miecznikowski, City Council - District 2

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

The NRA tries to get me to become a member

Listen to the National Rifle Association try to sell me a membership today. I love the bonus gift it offers to throw in at the end.
Sorry for some buzzing during Wayne LaPierre's message.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 26, 2014

Zoppo-Sassu: Let's get going with Renaissance

Statement on downtown by city Councilor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu:

Since elected officials were not allowed to comment at last week’s public hearing, I join my Democratic City Council colleagues, Calvin Brown and Mary Fortier, in issuing a statement on downtown so our constituents will know where we stand.  

My biggest concern at this time is the dueling perceptions of Bristol residents not wanting to invest in themselves. We CAN have a vibrant downtown. And I think we CAN address people’s concerns so that we achieve an outcome that the majority supports.

In 2005 the city wisely voted to purchase the old mall as a means of controlling our own destiny and shaping our own future. We wanted our citizens to come downtown for more than just city services.

Then, some potential plans called for a new Boys & Girls Club to be relocated on the Mall property, as well as a field house and some mixed use retail, office space and a parking structure. The voters who came to those public hearings objected to the land being used by entities that would not generate tax revenue. In late 2006, the Mall site was on the short list for the location of the new West Bristol School, but people again objected and the school was eventually built on a remote section of Chippens Hill.

Today, people are asking why the new Club, built on a small parcel on West Street, couldn’t have been built facing Brackett Park? Why is the new school as far west as it could possibly be while still being considered a Bristol school?  The fact that the hue and cry from angry citizens 10 years ago that prevented either of these plans from happening is indeed ironic. Recently the discussion has turned to more open space and a synthetic field from the school of "something is better than nothing" and "let’s get something going," even though the economic benefits of these scenarios would be marginal at best.

Are we destined to repeat history? I sure hope not. But our track record is not great for getting it right, dating back to the problems surrounding downtown urban renewal in the 1960s and early 1970s.

So what do I think today, after being back on the City Council for almost a year and being immersed (again) in a variety of reports, data, and public hearings on downtown?

First, I understand why people are opposed to investing $6 million of taxpayer money into a private investment when the economy is only slightly improving and people are watching every dollar. There are a lot of unknowns that would have to be hammered out with the City having an equity stake and deed restrictions if public money were part of the equation.

I understand that people want a say and are asking for a referendum. But what is the question? Are we asking taxpayers to approve the plan as presented, or is it about the $6 million that Renaissance asked for from the City?

They have now publicly stated that they are no longer asking for $6 million so this now appears to be off the table as a main argument for referendum.

Through the City’s 5 Year Capital Improvement Program, the City spends millions each year on projects that the taxpayers don’t even know about, much less have input into or for many, even know they are occurring or how they are funded.

For example, in the spring of 2013, the then-elected officials approved a $6 million renovation project for the Fire Department’s Engine 4 – a fire house located off of Route 229 next to the Public Works Yard and the Sewer Plant. Let’s just think about the irony of this for a minute – there is currently a $6 million project – the same amount as was being discussed for downtown - being launched for ONE fire house, in the southeast section of the city - that no one is talking about. A project that even many of the firefighters think is ridiculous.

The amount being spent would still be ridiculous if it was for the fire headquarters on North Main Street, but at least one could weakly argue that the $6 million would at least be benefiting a building that was more centrally visible and part of downtown.

So philosophically, if we are already bonding $6 million for a firehouse, why couldn’t we transfer that money to the downtown project that would benefit the entire community? Since it’s already budgeted, the taxpayers would feel nothing, and the Engine 4 fire house expansion could be put on the shelf for another year. Or better yet, put these large-ticket items up for referendum.

I know that Bristol has a lot of housing in the downtown area. Some of it has been the subject of code enforcement actions and we must also acknowledge that third floor apartments in restored Victorians do not appeal to all young professionals. I can support some new housing construction in downtown, but I have not supported the number of  housing units that Renaissance desires. I think that is too much density for this site but if they build it, I do hope they fill it with the type of sustained residential population that will represent the 7 day a week customer base that businesses need to thrive.  

I think we need to compromise and get the ball rolling. The City of Bristol should offer to partner with Renaissance with in-kind services to help them achieve their financial package needs. This would mean taking responsibility for the creation of the Piazza, roads and sidewalks, street lights, a shared parking plan for all parcels, and the necessary hook-ups for water and sewer. While this may amount to less than $2 million in city costs and services, it would be way to demonstrate support and buy-in in an area where the City has experience and ability.  The City can also be of assistance by continuing its aggressive marketing and business recruitment activities on other parcels that will bolster downtown – the recent sale of 10 Main Street, the former Press building and helping other downtown landlords fill their spaces – as well as supporting projects such as the Memorial Boulevard which is another piece of the puzzle.

I think both the Renaissance work and some of the recommendations of the Goman + York report go back to what we knew in 2005 – sometimes a public driver is needed to stimulate private investment. Whether it’s going to be a Piazza or skating rink or something else, the City of Bristol needs to have a role.  And I would really love to see ESPN involved as a partner in designing housing tailored to their employees’ needs.

Last spring, I talked to a number of local developers and real estate experts about their thoughts on downtown. One theme that did emerge from all of these separate conversations was making the project more manageable. Renaissance needs to be encouraged in their role as gatekeeper and the preferred developer to bring other developers to the table for the remaining parcels. We have design and zoning regulations for downtown in place and with careful, collaborative efforts, we could possibly have several developers at the table at the same time, all working with Renaissance to create a synergy for the 15 acres.

I like that the Mayor called a joint meeting of the BDDC and City Council. We all need to show leadership, keep the lines of communication open, and continue to work together and decide on a path that works for everyone and gets shovels in the ground sooner rather than later. While the Democrats have not been at the table for the negotiations, I think I speak for all of us when I say we are anxious to be part of the solution.

No downtowns are perfect. They are all, regardless of size and demographics, a work in progress with a mix of businesses that appeal to some people and not others. But if Southington, Plantsville, and New Britain can re-build their downtowns with a mix of government center, independent retail and restaurants and other activities, so can we.

In fact, we have a blank slate of 17 acres to draw our future. It’s time we got our paints and start putting color on the canvas. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 24, 2014

Martin's online advertisement promises to turn Connecticut around

Here's an advertisement that Republican state Senate candidate Henri Martin has on YouTube:




Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Fortier continues to back Renaissance

Democratic city Councilor Mary Fortier released this statement about Renaissance today:


I commend my fellow Council member Calvin Brown for his positive comments regarding the most recent Renaissance Downtowns presentation and public hearing.  I too, wish there had been an opportunity for the BDDC members and Councilors to offer their comments.
  
For any that don’t know, I have been a supporter of Renaissance Downtowns and continue to be.  I’d like to share some of the reasons why.  As the Preferred Developer for Depot Square they signed a contract with the city that contained pages and pages of requirements.  They have worked hard for years and have accomplished most of those requirements.  Their efforts at grassroots organizing and marketing for this project through Bristol Rising have certainly exceeded the requirements of the contract.  While the contract includes the basic mixed use outline for this project, including many hundreds of housing units, specifics like the piazza, which has become very popular, have grown out of the partnership with Renaissance and Bristol residents.  Renaissance and Bristol share a vision for a more vibrant, walkable, sustainable downtown.

Renaissance has made a commitment to Bristol and Renaissance deserves renewed commitment from us.  Renaissance has taken risks in Bristol and Bristol needs to move beyond the risk.  No one is banging down the doors of city hall for a chance to develop this parcel.  In our current downtown, incomes are below average and rents are below average. The age of our residents is older as is the housing they live in.  These demographics make this project risky.  The risk has always been part of this project, but these demographics are precisely the reason the project exists. If we had a strong thriving downtown, it wouldn’t matter what we built on Depot Square, a school, a hockey rink, or even just a hill, it would be a contribution to an already successful place.  If we don’t change the demographics of our downtown we risk not having a downtown at all.  We need younger residents, with higher incomes to change the balance in downtown.  “If we build it, they will come”, sounds like the dream from a movie, but if it doesn’t happen we will never have anything but a couple more drug stores on Depot Square.  Doing this project is risky, but not doing it is much riskier.

The current issue is financing Phase I.  As far back as the April submission, Renaissance discussed several options for closing the gap that exists in financing. The time has come to seriously explore every possible option.  For example, one such option is the CHAMP program.  “The CHAMP program can provide up to $5 million in gap financing for projects and would typically require as little as 20% to be workforce housing.”  Workforce housing is not Section 8 housing and it doesn’t become Section 8 housing.  We need to look into CHAMP financing and we are entitled to get an explanation as to why, or why it would not, be a viable option for this project.

I look forward to doing whatever I can to explore options, ask questions, and get answers so we can get this done and start building our future this spring.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 23, 2014

Pavalock opposes possible new taxes

Press release from Cara Pavalock, the Republican candidate for the 77th District state House seat in Bristol:

Pavalock: No New Taxes!

(Bristol)  Cara C. Pavalock, the Republican nominee for State Representative from the 77th Assembly District voices her concern over a proposal that has been floating around Connecticut that would drastically raise taxes in our state.

The proposal is called the “Land Valuation Tax.”  If implemented, this tax would be levied on all non-profits in Connecticut, such as hospitals, churches, museums, private schools, and the like. “This tax would have an adverse effect on these already struggling organizations in Bristol, and I am in strong opposition to it.” Pavalock said.

In addition to taxing non-profits, the proposal seeks to tax vacant land at a higher rate. Proponents of the tax claim there should be a higher rate for vacant land because it is not being used for its highest and best value. “Don’t residents pay enough in taxes already? Why are people being forced to build structures on their own private land?” Pavalock continued, “I agree that many municipalities are struggling to make ends meet in this tough economy, however, I also believe that the easiest thing the State can do to help local governments over the hump is to reduce the amount of unfunded mandates on the books.”

There have been recent seminars on the Land Valuation Tax and Pavalock fears that the proposal is gaining traction. Currently, local municipalities are receiving pilot funds for these non-profits and this tax would be used to alleviate some of the burdens on local governments and the State.

“Connecticut doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.” Pavalock added, “Instituting new taxes isn’t going to make Connecticut a better place to live, work, raise a family or retire.”
Pavalock has made unfunded mandates a cornerstone of her campaign and has pledged to oppose any piece of legislation that places new unfunded mandates on Connecticut’s municipalities.

“This new tax is most likely going to be debated by the General Assembly over the next few years,” Pavalock concluded, “Now is the time to ask your candidates where they stand on the issue and I want every resident of the 77th District to know that I stand with them in opposing any new taxes being implement in our great state.”

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 18, 2014

Brown: Do not abandon plans for mall site

From city Councilor Calvin Brown:

As I was unable to fit my comments in at the end of the public hearing Tuesday night, I am releasing this statement in the hopes that my views on downtown redevelopment – as they stand right now – may be clear for my constituents.

First and foremost, I consider downtown redevelopment to be one of the most pressing issues of our time. In order to improve the quality of life for everyone, we need to attract more middle class families to live in our city, grow our tax base, and spur new economic activity at new, thriving, easily accessible businesses. Our top-rate school system, central location, and medium-size-town atmosphere make us an attractive option for young families, but we’re missing a few other key elements young people often look for when considering a place to live.

Chief among these considerations: a vibrant and walkable downtown. This vision can be realized in the City of Bristol. Retail, public green-space, and competitive housing are elements that I believe can truly revitalize our downtown area. For now, Renaissance is not only the singular company that has shown an interest in developing the downtown lot with this sort of focus, they are the only company that’s shown an interest in development – period. It is my belief that it is in the city’s best interest by far to continue to work with Renaissance to revise and refocus our efforts in good faith. To the many members of the public that disagree with assigning city dollars to the project: I hear you. To the many members of the public who say let’s give them the money and just get started: I hear you, too. But for now, Renaissance is willing to look at other options that do not include city money, and we need to let them try that.

In a perfect world I would prefer to see the City build the piazza ourselves, build the road through the parcel that will be required for future development, and commit to other infrastructure improvements surrounding downtown that will make the space more viable and attractive to investors and potential businesses. These are the investments every great community makes in themselves, and perhaps that is a more appropriate use of public money.

To members of the public that ask for a public referendum on the issue: I believe that until we have a plan to even potentially propose on a ballot, it is too soon to talk of a public referendum. If the plan can move ahead without any city money, a referendum won’t be necessary. If the plan cannot move ahead without city money, then the discussion of a public referendum will have to take place.

Regardless, however, as one of your elected officials I must make my position perfectly clear: the gigantic importance of revitalizing our downtown to get it thriving again makes the cost of doing nothing much too high. For now, that empty lot is a hole in our heart that requires thoughtful, surgical care. Abandoning this process now and delaying any movement there for an indeterminate amount of time could send our city into cardiac arrest. Getting the project moving, on the other hand – with new people and new businesses and new attractions in the heart of our great city – could beat new life into our veins.

One day, when I stroll the streets of my hometown with my own children, I want to be able to look them in the eye and say “look at what the people in our city came together to accomplish. Look at the heart of Bristol, which we strengthened for you.”

I don’t want to show them a seventeen acre graveyard of what could have been, and mutter softly, “I’m sorry.”

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 17, 2014

City meeting would have been better

Since someone raised the issue in a Bristol Press story comment, I was ill last night. I would have much preferred to be at the downtown meeting.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 11, 2014

Michalik secures backing from teachers' union

Press release from Rob Michalik, the Democratic candidate for the 31st District state Senate seat:

Rob Michalik Endorsed by Public School Teachers 
Connecticut Education Association and American Federation of Teachers of Connecticut Endorse Rob Michalik for State Senate
September 10, 2014
Bristol CT – Democratic State Senate Candidate Rob Michalik, proudly announced the endorsement of his campaign by Connecticut’s public school teachers. Both the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and the Connecticut affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have voted to endorse Michalik for the November 4th General Election. The organizations collectively represent all of Connecticut’s public school teachers.
“Providing Connecticut children with a high quality education will equip them with the foundation necessary to succeed in todays fast pace enviroment,” said Michalik. “My opponent has a record of continuously making cuts to public education. This district needs a strong voice in the senate that work together with parents, administrators, teachers and taxpayers to ensure our students are receiving the best education in our schools.”
“Rob’s support for children, teachers and public education has been made clear and as a result our organization is proud to endorse your candidacy,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen.
"We need legislators in Hartford who will stand up for the district’s working families and lead on the issues that matter. We look forward to Rob joining with educators, healthcare professionals and state employees to fight for great schools, affordable, quality healthcare and strong public services," said Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut, which also represents public schools' support staff, nurses and healthcare workers, higher education faculty, and state and municipal employees.
“It is imperative that we work to ensure that our communities receive their fair share of education funding from the state to reduce the burden placed on local property taxes,” added Michalik.  “Our students deserve the support, and our seniors and those with limited incomes can use the tax relief.”
The 31st state senate district consists of Bristol, Harwinton, Thomaston, Plainville and Plymouth.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Larson: Put aside partisanship to defeat ISIS

Press release from U.S. Rep. John Larson, the East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol:

LARSON STATEMENT ON PRESIDENT’S ISIS REMARKS

(Washington) – Congressman John B. Larson released the following statement today:

“Thirteen years ago, at twilight on September the 11th, Democrats and Republicans stood in unity on the steps of the Capitol against a common threat. This evening, the President said we are best when we act together. He is right. We need to put aside the partisanship and electoral politics, as we did thirteen years ago, and come together to act in the common interests of the American people. This requires no profile in courage, but only that Congress engage and vote.

“The President’s remarks tonight should serve to unify the nation against the national and international threat of ISIS. I commend the President for consulting with our allies and building appropriate coalitions with NATO, members of the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council while informing the American people as well as Congressional Leadership of the threat that ISIS presents.

“Two things remain clear – a global and regional response is imperative and the mission and exit strategy must be clearly defined. On those two issues, Congress should be engaged.”

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 10, 2014

Blumenthal coming to Bristol Saturday to back Michalik

Democratic state Senate candidate Rob Michalik press release:


MICHALIK ANNOUNCES FALL CAMPAIGN KICK­OFF EVENT WITH U.S SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

Rob Michalik announced that the kick­off of his fall campaign for State Senate will be held at 430 North Main Street in Bristol at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, September, 13th. U.S Senator Richard Blumenthal will be on hand for the event, as will other local Democratic candidates on the November ballot.
“I look forward to having residents from all five towns in the 31st senate district – Bristol, Harwinton, Plainville, Plymouth, and Thomaston – join me in working together to ensure a better future for our community,” said Michalik. “Anyone who wishes to help with the campaign, or simply to learn about our plans to strengthen the middle­class and grow the economy, is welcome to stop by our campaign headquarters on September13th.”
"Rob is an ardent advocate for consumer rights and growing our economy. He will be a strong voice for the people of the 31st district,” said Senator Blumenthal. “With his experience, particularly in economic development, he has the background and qualifications to serve his constituents well. I am excited to join with him and other local candidates for this kick­off event.”
WHAT: Michalik Fall Campaign Kick­off
WHEN: Saturday September 13
th at 11:00 a.m.
WHERE: 430 North Main St., Bristol, CT, next to Super Natural


Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Welch blasts early release program for prisoners

Press release from state Sen. Jason Welch, a Bristol Republican:

Sen. Welch Comments on the Flawed Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program

Bristol-State Senator Jason Welch released a statement today after Republican Senators called for a change to the Connecticut’s flawed Risk Reduction Earned Credit program (RREC). On Tuesday, a judge in New Britain arraigned Arthur Hapgood, a beneficiary of the RREC, for murdering his infant niece. Hapgood was released 233 days early after he failed multiple drug tests and continued to demonstrate disturbing behavior while incarcerated.

“Justice is underway for a little girl from Bristol whose life was senselessly cut short,” said Welch. “No policy change can retrieve a life that has already been destroyed. However, the state has an obligation to change a system which released a dangerous felon, who obviously had not been rehabilitated, before he served his full term. Criminals are taken off our streets for a reason. They should stay off our streets, and the State of Connecticut should keep its promise to the victims and their families.”

The RREC is the state’s latest attempt to reduce recidivism. The program launched in 2011. Many risk reduction credit recipients have gone on to commit heinous crimes shortly after release. Republican Senators are looking to address this public safety concern.

Jason Welch (www.senatorwelch.com) represents the 31st Senatorial District, which includes the towns of Bristol, Plainville, Plymouth, Thomaston, and Harwinton. He can be reached at 800.842.1421. You can follow Senator Welch on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SenatorWelch.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 9, 2014

Joint session to discuss Depot Square on Sept. 16


Embattled developer Renaissance Downtowns will get a chance to make the case for its proposed Depot Square project next week before a joint session of the City Council and the Bristol Downtown Development Corp.
The 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting at City Hall is billed as a public hearing where the Long Island developer will speak first and then anyone else who wants to weigh in will have the opportunity.
Mayor Ken Cockayne said city officials won’t make any decisions Tuesday. They just want to listen to what people have to say, he said.
“It’s an opportunity for the public to speak to both boards,” Cockayne said. LINK FOR MORE

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 8, 2014

Mum Parade signups end Friday

The deadline to participate in this year’s Mum Parade has been extended until Friday.
Jack Ferraro, one of the parade coordinators, said they are providing extra time so schools and others who had the summer off have a chance to join in.
“We just want to be fair to everyone,” Ferraro said.
The parade is closing in a hundred applications so far – a good turnout – and more are expected this week.
The 53rd annual festival will include activities along Memorial Boulevard all day on Saturday, Sept. 27 and the yearly downtown parade starting at 1:30 p.m. the following day. It is one of the biggest parades in Connecticut.
Retired police officer and longtime American Legion official Bob Coffey is the parade marshal, while former city Councilor David Mills and Michele Boyko, a movie producer, are slated to serve as masters of ceremony.
The parade, which can go on for hours, includes everything from dance troupes to elaborate floats. There are typically thousands of people watching along the way.
It is not necessary for participants to be from Bristol.
To sign up to participate, go online to tinyurl.com/mz6l3lf.


Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Time for city leaders to -- shocking idea -- lead

I had an interesting conversation today with a longtime city government watcher who confessed to confusion about what's the best way to proceed with downtown.
Like most people in the city these days, he was pretty down on Renaissance and its plans for Depot Square, especially the $6 million or more the Long Island developer wants taxpayers to chip in toward construction of the first building.
But the part that struck me in our talk was something else: the idea that Bristol is not having the sort of wide-ranging, deep conversation it should about how to proceed.
That's clearly true.
What really hit me, though, was his analysis of what's gone wrong. He said the city's leaders have ducked their duty, that instead of taking charge of the project and guiding the community toward an understanding of the issues involved, the details of the plans and the realities of any alternatives they have instead said almost nothing and done less.
He said the city would be far, far better off if its elected leaders took the helm and tried to steer the ship.
As it is, what debate and discussion exists is mostly stirred up by Shawn Ruest, an ardent foe of the project whose view of the government's potential role is deeply skeptical and narrow. I don't think Ruest would disagree much with that, though it's fair to say, too, that he's tried to delve into the project on his own to figure out what's going on. That's admirable on any level.
What hasn't happened, however, is to have the city's leaders grab hold of the issue and lay out the case for -- or against -- the Renaissance plan. They have, by and large, taken a hands-off approach, as if it was all somebody's else's idea.
What the veteran government watcher wants is for Mayor Ken Cockayne and the City Council to hold public meeting after public meeting, preferably in a high school auditorium and taped for Nutmeg TV, to explore the project plans and the issues that surround them.
He said they should be listening to the public's concerns at these sessions but also guiding the discussion toward some sort of community consensus on whether to move ahead and how.
They should be leading, he said, instead of cowering in the background and talking about the biggest issue facing Bristol only when they're in closed-door executive sessions.
Moreover, he argued, the history of Bristol shows that in the end, the public should vote on the issue. He said every important decision ever made in the town that went right was done by referendum, not the maneuverings of politicians trying to keep their deeds in the dark.
He pointed to the referendum that led to Memorial Boulevard and its school, to the preservation of the Hoppers-Birge Pond Nature Preserve and the switch to an elected Board of Education.
Whatever the right course is, he said, it's up to the city's leaders to point the way and make the case. If they can't, that says a lot all by itself about the merits.
The bottom line? The city's elected officials need to speak up. They've been too quiet for too long.
They're killing the project by their silence. But that's not how a democracy should work. Whatever the outcome for Renaissance and its plan, it should come after rousing and thoughtful public debate.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

What happens if an asteroid clobbers Bristol? It's not good.


About once every 50,000 years, an average-sized asteroid smashed into the earth. If it happened in Bristol, there would be a massive explosion with a whopping fireball. And it wouldn't be a nice place to be for anyone. Then again, the blast radius would reach as far north as Springfield and nearly to Long Island in the south. Most of Connecticut would perish right along with us.  LINK

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 4, 2014

Crocodile Club will draw politicos to Bristol Friday

Frank Nicastro, blowing his trumpet (Photo by Mike Orazzi/The Bristol Press)
On the agenda for Friday's Crocodile Club gathering at Lake Compounce are, as of now, Gov. Dannel Malloy, the incomparable Joe Visconti, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. John Larson and his opponent, Republican Matthew Corey.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Heather Somers are also on tap, thank goodness, since one guy after another would get tiresome.
Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne will, of course, have his moment at the microphone and state Rep. Frank Nicastro will, as always, play the trumpet.
WTIC's Ray Dunaway will emcee the whole shebang, trying to keep things moving.
What else will happen? Who knows?
Tickets are still available. You can get them at the gate for $55 each starting at 11:30 a.m.
If you've never been, go. There aren't many things that have survived since 1875. The Crocodile Club is a treat.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com