February 11, 2015 08:50PM
By Molly Callahan
MERIDEN — Residents leafing through the free Meriden Choice News issued this week might be surprised to see all the changes envisioned for the city’s downtown, but officials with the Choice Neighborhood Initiative say they believe those will soon become a reality.
The fictitious paper is printed in a Meriden of the future, in the year 2020. It features articles penned by various city officials and community members about events and locations happening in the Choice Neighborhood, the center of which is the State Street train station and Meriden Hub site. Though the events described are works of the imagination, they’re based on activities and construction development that’s starting in the area now.
“This isn’t pie-in-the-sky stuff, this is based on what (development firms) are intending to do,” said Sean Moore, Midstate Chamber of Commerce president and one of the newspaper’s editors.
Recently, the city received proposals from three private firms to redevelop five city-owned properties including part of the Hub site, 116 Cook Ave., the former Factory H site, 11 Crown St., and 25-33 Colony St. All are included in the Choice Neighborhood Initiative region.
Though it’s not a mandatory part of the process, the newspaper is being printed as part of the planning stage for a $500,000 Choice Neighborhood grant the city and housing authority received through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhoods program. The grant will be used to plan for the closing of Mills Memorial Apartments, a public housing complex off Pratt Street, and to create a blueprint for relocating tenants through future development.
The exact cost of the publication could not be obtained Wednesday.
Eddie Siebert, the community liaison for the Meriden Housing Authority and publisher of the newspaper, said the intent is to build some excitement about the projects while the city is still in the throes of construction-related headaches.
“This is a shot in the arm; it’s a positive piece,” he said. “All of these are projects are going to take some time. Of course they’re going to take time, these are huge undertakings. The takeaway here is that there’s hope at the end of all the demolition and construction.”
The Record-Journal Publishing Co. was hired to assist with printing services for the project.
The newspaper’s front page features stories about the new train station being built on State Street as part of a 62-mile Hartford Line rail update; a 12-night celebration at the Hub site, and a certain “Hurricane Larry” that would have caused major downtown flooding without the implementation of a flood control plan in the area.
“I wanted to reference the flooding right off the blocks,” Siebert said, “because that’s been the number one deterrent for all development downtown. That’s pretty much the bottom line, and we work our way out of the flood zone.”
Uncovering and redirecting Harbor Brook at the Hub site and under the former Church and Morse building on Colony Street are part of the plan to alleviate flooding in the area.
Siebert noted that there’s “some fun built into” the paper, including naming the fictitious hurricane after City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior.
Aside from giving city residents an idea of what downtown could look like in five years, the newspaper is also intended to spread awareness of the building projects to potential business owners.
Moore said, “Part of my role was to help from a business perspective, arguing that there will be amazing business opportunities within the district which include jobs for residents...”
He added that he occasionally encounters misinformation about the projects, or a total lack of information and hoped that the Choice News would be a source of what’s to be expected.
“I think it’s pretty spot on. We really tried not to exaggerate, we tried not to oversell... but to set up the expectation that there will be lots of activity that residents would demand,” he said.
Along those lines, Kendzior noted that while the actual events highlighted in the newspaper might not occur, “those are the kinds of events that could occur” in the Hub park, for example.
“I think it’s very realistic,” he added.
Kendzior said that the city could apply for another Choice Neighborhoods grant at some point in the near future — this time a Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grant as opposed to the planning grant the city received previously.
“They are independent of each other,” Kendzior said of the two grants, and of the latter, one that “could lead to a large amount of funding. However, the funding process is a little uncertain, and it’s highly competitive.” In the past, grants of the same kind have been awarded at up to $30 million, Kendzior said.
Of the 1,500 Meriden Choice Newspapers printed, 750 will be circulated with the Midstate Chamber of Commerce March newsletter. The balance will be available for residents at the Meriden Public Library, the Community Health Center, the City Clerk’s office in City Hall, and the Meriden YMCA.