As I was unable to fit my comments in at the end of the public hearingnight, 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.”