May 4, 2014

Revitalization without Renaissance?

After talking with dozens of city and community leaders about the scaled-down Depot Square proposal by Renaissance Downtowns, I'm quite sure the idea as it stands is doomed.
There's no way the Long Island developer is going to get $6 million in public support, or anything close to it, to erect a 101-unit apartment building beside the railroad tracks near Main Street. The notion drew scorn from most officials and disappointment from even the most supportive ones.
Latest proposal from Renaissance.
There seems to be a lot of anger directed at Renaissance, for wasting the city's time, for failing to deliver what it promised, for letting down Bristol.
That ire is misplaced. Don Monti, the developer's president, pointed out the other day that the company is not a magician. It can only do what the financial numbers allow. It can't create funding out of thin air.
It's hardly Renaissance's fault that Bristol is perhaps too poor to justify the sort of investment required to deliver the sort of downtown that officials dreamed about, the kind of city center that many residents demanded when public hearings were held to solicit their thoughts.
And it's certainly not the developer's fault that the city bought the mall site almost a decade ago so it could control the lot's destiny.
That it's now a giant empty parcel is a shame, of course, but Renaissance has spent more than $2 million of its own money to try to turn it into a viable piece of a viable downtown. It has tried to help Bristol in many ways, and succeeded in lending a hand to the opening of a handful of businesses (though, of course, it hoped to profit in the end).
So what is the solution? If Bristol says no to Renaissance and boots the developer, it's back to square one for a piece of land that currently serves as a great big advertisement for Bristol's dysfunction.
It won't boost the city's image to have pinned its hopes on the Depot Square project and then abandon the whole thing.
What's really needed is some creativity and smarts that can figure out how to put the puzzle together so that Renaissance -- or any decent developer -- can get something going on that site.
I wish I had the answers. But I don't.
What I do know is that Bristol has for way too long muttered, carped and griped while nothing happened to create the sort of community it has the potential to become.
You don't have to look any further than that $11 million Bristol Boys and Girls Club rising on West Street to see that dreams can come true, even in Bristol, and that by pulling together and pressing ahead, good things can happen.
Somehow, the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. and the City Council have to take the lead and guide this project forward. There's no way to win the game by dropping the ball.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You summed it up quite well Steve and I agree. The project is most likely doomed. Bristol is a poor community (and getting poorer not wealthier every single day) regardless of what organizations such as the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Bristol Rising say. If the financiers and investors over the past 6 years do not have confidence in the parcel's success, why should we. However, if we were to subsidize construction as a city, I would much rather give 6 million dollars to someone local we could trust such as Carpenter or D'Amato Construction to complete the project.