The Bristol Blog features news and information about Bristol, Connecticut.
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.
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