Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce
Comment for City of Bristol Planning Commission
Re: Disposition of Memorial Boulevard School
February 21, 2014
- Recommended Uses of Memorial Boulevard School (MBS): Consistent with the input received by the City of Bristol Planning Commission at the two public informational sessions held to gather public input for potential use/reuse of MBS, the Chamber recommends that MBS become a “destination” multiple purpose community center to include the following uses within the building:
- Theater: Theater to be retained for theatrical productions and other entertainment events and programs. Furthermore, contiguous space to the Theater should also be made available for management office space, staging, rehearsal space, lobby/reception, ticket office and storage.
- Bristol Visitor’s Center and Heritage Museum: Bristol Visitor’s Center and Heritage Museum to include displays and programs highlighting the Memorial “flavor” of the park and Bristol’s past and present (manufacturing, veteran’s, sports, agriculture, etc.) with potential tour and school programs linked to other museums and heritage centers around the City (American Clock and Watch Museum, New England Carousel Museum, Bristol Historical Society and Sports Hall of Fame, Military Museum, Bristol Public Library, Federal Hill Historic Districts, Lake Compounce, etc.).
- Art: Art studios and galleries for art-related business, art creation, display, classes and sales. The vision is to create a section of the building where the public could view, shop and learn about various forms of art such as sculpting, pottery, and painting. Further the designated section of the building could become a destination where the art community could work together and collaborate on projects, events, sales, classes, innovation, etc.
- Conference Center: Multi-purpose catering kitchen, meeting rooms, reception and configurable event rooms for seminars, meetings, dinners, programs, etc. Reuse of the MBS gymnasium and/or cafeteria, kitchen, library and other rooms for multi-purpose event and meeting support would allow training seminars, strategic planning off-sites, and meetings and events requiring space for small and large groups, with on-site catering support capabilities. This space could be in proximity to the Theater and Art Center communities within the building to provide shared reception, rehearsal, concession, and other overlapping uses.
- Business Incubator: To support light office small business start-ups and shared office space such as technology, bio-tech, or communications businesses. A segment of MBS should be set aside for stand-alone businesses and for individuals wanting to share space, amenities, utilize space for meetings, presentations, and potentially share support staff among multiple business entities. It is envisioned that many “start up” and “home based” companies could be supported in this manner.
- Civic Organization office space. Space could be made available to consolidate related civic and community entities which might be a good fit to manage and/or promote the other activities within the building.
- Non- Governmental Organizations: Space could be made available to consolidate related non-governmental entities such as the Army Strong office and the Veteran’s Council. Other synergistic pairings and combinations of related public and private organizations could free up space in other locations for core functions (such as re-organizing space and functions within City Hall).
- Playground space: Potential reuse of a portion of MBS gymnasium for indoor playground for children.
- Educational uses: As an existing school MBS presents self-evident opportunities for educational uses.
- Fields: The existing fields should be preserved to accentuate the activities of Memorial Boulevard Park, athletic space for the community and specifically in proximity to the downtown area, and as support for activities at the MBS.
- Recommended ownership/management of MBS: Following strong public input and preference, the Chamber recommends the City of Bristol pursue a strategy which considers maintaining ownership of MBS and leasing the building, immediate grounds and parking to a not for-profit entity which could both manage the operations of MBS and the financial management of the building and its uses. Although further investigation is required, this format should create more opportunities to secure governmental funding and independent grants which could be utilized to support either the renovation, or operations of the MBS.
- Other considerations: Other issues raised which should be noted for further consideration were to: (i) investigate the possibility of closing the road between MBS and the neighboring industrial complex to create additional parking. (ii) Place the MBS on the Historic Registry to help insure the integrity of the structure and provide funding opportunities, and (iii) develop restrictive covenants to be placed on the MBS to ensure the integrity of the architectural design and look of the building.
Recommended next steps: The Chamber recommends the following next steps to implement re-use of MBS. The first step would be that the Planning Commission recommend that the Bristol City Council create a transitional project oversight and management committee (the “Committee”) to work with appropriate City staff, local organizations, stakeholders and private experts (architects, engineering, code/regulatory experts, etc.) to develop a Feasibility Plan for the MBS allocating appropriate space and infrastructural amenities for potential use groups within the building. The Committee should evaluate the desirability of registering the MBS with the national Historical Registry. The Committee should do a more detailed evaluation of the availability of private, state and federal funds to redevelop, repair and operate the MBS. Once these key issues are investigated the Committee can recommend a governance structure for the MBS which may, or may not, be consistent with what we have outlined in Section 2.