February 24, 2014 09:14PM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — A downtown building could be in line for improvements after the city was one of two communities in the state selected for the Come Home to Downtown program.
Meriden and New Britain were chosen for the program that connects property owners to resources that could help them add residential units in their downtown buildings. Meriden was chosen because of its recent push to use expanded rail service to bring more housing to downtown. New Britain is positioned along a new bus line.
“With the state’s $1.5 billion investment in transit, ensuring that the areas around the bus and rail stations provide an interesting mix of housing, retail and other uses is a critical component of how we grow our towns,” Connecticut Main Street Center President and CEO John Simone said. “Many of the buildings surrounding transit stations are exactly like the ones we chose for this program — older, under-utilized and full of potential.”
Connecticut Main Street Center, an organization that aims to revitalize downtowns throughout the state, piloted the Come Home to Downtown program in 2012 along with the Connecticut Housing and Finance Authority. In being accepted in the program, property owners receive free architectural services to develop more mixed-income housing.
The building in Meriden receiving assistance, 1-3 Colony St., stands at the corner of Colony and West Main streets. The building, nearly 20,000 square feet, stands five stories tall. It has undergone multiple renovations, but currently has some commercial vacancies and no apartments.
City and downtown stakeholders, together with representatives from Connecticut Main Street Center, gathered in the Midstate Chamber of Commerce office on the third floor of the 3 Colony St. part of the building on Monday. In addition to helping the building gain some residential units, the organization is partnering with the city to encourage economic development.
“A lot of persons want downtowns to come back,” Simone told the group. “And more people want to live and work in downtown.”
Simone explained that it is important to make sure downtown revitalization is coordinated. YMCA Director John Benigni was asked to help bring younger people to future meetings.
“We definitely need (young people) to buy into downtown,” Benigni said, noting he has about 280 employees, many who are part-time and young.
Benigni said it has been a challenge to get people who frequent the Y to visit downtown businesses.
Downtown property owner Ross Gulino said only one of his 26 residential units downtown is vacant. Many of the tenants are young and their biggest concern is the cost of living.