OPINION: Meriden needs to keep momentum going in 2019

OPINION: Meriden needs to keep momentum going in 2019

Looking back a short ten years ago, few could have imagined the Meriden of today.

In fact, I recently overheard a Meriden visitor who came back to visit Meriden (after a ten-year absence) and could not believe the changes to the downtown he remembered.

Some of the most notable changes have been the flood control project with the Meriden Green and new Transit Center that replaced the 14 acres of wasteland and the old, outdated train station.

The new Green functioned perfectly in the recent big storm that dropped nearly 3 inches of rain. In prior years, without the Green acting as a reservoir, there would have been significant downtown flooding from this storm.

Just north of the Green, the aging Mills Public Housing Project has been leveled after years of talk and complaints, making way for the Meriden Commons I and II that provide 151 new, affordable, workforce housing units.

This construction — together with the new apartments at 24 Colony St. — signal a new era for Meriden’s downtown. These apartments are privately owned and operated, mixed income, and offer first floor office/commercial space. This is the new model for apartment projects across the country that will bring more residents to downtowns and spur economic and civic vitality.

Soon to follow (due to the demolition of the former Record-Journal building on Crown Street) will be more mixed-use apartments while the old Meriden/Wallingford Hospital building on Cook Avenue has been readied for re-use as a result of the major removal of hazardous materials.

These major construction projects, coupled with traffic redesign, mark Meriden as one of Connecticut’s leading communities with the most significant change.

Adding to all of the above are the like-new renovations of the three Meriden high schools totaling over $300 million creating state-of-the-art learning centers for the next century.

On an aside, I took my son (a 1988 graduate of Maloney High School now living in California) on a tour of the new school and asked him what he remembered of the old school. He replied: “Nothing.” This speaks to the magnitude of the transformation.

We are also witnessing a social resurgence. The annual Puerto Rican Festival has been revived, bringing in record crowds to Hubbard Park every August. The Twilight Summer Music Series has also expanded after moving to the Meriden Green. Record crowds regularly attend the free Friday night music events at the Green.

The Meriden Farmers Market has also been relocated to the Green, drawing crowds of families and seniors to the market (featuring local farmers and other vendors offering a vast variety of fruits and vegetables on Saturday mornings from July through October). The market also offers food tastings, tips on nutrition, live music, and “Doubling Dollars” for families and seniors as well as free lunches for all children.

The Meriden Green has come alive with numerous events and activities, including the annual Lions Club Duck Race, parties, and festivals. We are seeing many residents walking, running, and just enjoying the scenery and serenity of the award-winning Green.

We have also witnessed the expansion of the popular Linear Trail with the second phase overlooking Hanover Pond with future plans to extend the trail into the downtown along Harbor Brook.

Those of us who have lived in Meriden for years have witnessed these major changes incrementally. But when one takes a ten-year overview, they are truly remarkable and arguably represent the most consequential transformation in Meriden’s history.

All these positive changes have not happened by accident. They were the result of city leadership with a positive vision, expert planning, and unparalleled teamwork among city, state, and federal elected officials and the staffs of multiple departments. Meriden is fortunate to have the talent and commitment of so many stakeholders to make this transformation possible.

My hope for 2019 is that we keep momentum going for a happy and successful New Year and a bright future for our community.

Michael S. Rohde is a former Meriden mayor and city councilor.


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