It has been two years since I first began this bi-weekly column about Meriden, and I would like to offer a reflection on this period and offer hope for the New Year.
When I started this column, I wanted to provide local commentary (with a progressive point of view) about Meriden’s assets, activities, events, organizations, people and the politics as I saw them. I appreciate the opportunity to chronicle Meriden’s progress and promise over the past two years. I’m amazed at just how much our community has accomplished, and remain excited about what will be happening in the new year.
Who would have thought that in such a short time so many of those plans — long in the making — would come to fruition?
The new Meriden Green would unfold like a Phoenix arising from the ashes of a toxic wasteland to serve as a linchpin for new developments of housing, retail/commercial space, and a new transit center.
The Mills public housing project, now abandoned and ready for impending demolition, will be an extension of the Meriden Green. It will forever erase the stigma that this outdated complex had on the image of our center city.
New, modern mixed-use housing units with mixed income levels of renters will reshape the economic and social fabric of our downtown and set the stage for a long-awaited revitalization.
Already we have seen the new 24 Colony St. building quickly fill to capacity and in the spring, Meriden Commons I (76 apartments) will be accepting housing applications. This year, construction will soon begin on Meriden Commons II, which when completed will add 75 more housing units to bring the total to 220 -- and counting.
The new transit center is now open and in May the commuter trains will increase to 17 trips daily between New Haven and Hartford. This number will also steadily grow when the new tracks are completed.
Central Connecticut riders can now depart from Meriden instead of driving to New Haven for trains to New York City and points South. The new garage and surface parking will offer convenience (or, as an alternative, taxis and Uber service will be available for local transportation).
Another amazing accomplishment has been the completion of the two like-new renovations of Maloney and Platt high schools (both under budget and on time).
These state-of-the-art schools are a significant investment in Meriden’s future and important community resource.
Meriden had distinguished itself as the only city in Connecticut with three like-new high schools (including Wilcox Technical School).
Beyond the aforementioned projects, 2018 promises continued growth. The new Pratt Street boulevard project, serving as the gateway to the downtown, will begin in the spring and provide a pedestrian-friendly entry into the city.
New apartment and townhouse construction to the south of the Meriden Green (on the site of the former Record-Journal building on Crown Street) will also start this year. We’re anticipating the opening of two restaurants on East Main Street (Huxley’s Bookmark Café and Taino Smoke House) along with some other eateries in the downtown area.
The long-awaited transformation of the old Meriden/Wallingford Hospital and Medical Center on Cook Avenue is showing some positive signs as funding is being acquired for cleanup and a preferred developer has been selected. This final piece of the downtown puzzle is slowly, but surely, taking shape.
This summer we will see a lot of activities on the Meriden Green, including summer concerts, car shows, the Lions Club Duck Race, and the bustling Meriden Farmers Market, among other attractions.
This — coupled with the many new residents in the apartments, new local businesses, and visitors to the transit center -- will be bringing new life and energy to downtown Meriden.
We have been very fortunate that Connecticut’s dismal financial situation had not happened earlier when we relied on state funding for our major infrastructure projects.
There is no way, given the current fiscal climate, that we could have undertaken these projects today. We were also fortunate to have a team of local and state officials that were committed to sustaining these complex and costly projects to completion.
As we begin 2018, we have an interim city manager, Fire Chief Ken Morgan, who is sure to provide a steady, calming hand to what has been a rocky period at City Hall.
It is my hope that the Meriden City Council will make a wise choice for the next city manager to lead the city forward and take advantage of the positive momentum that we are enjoying.
I will continue to offer local commentary and call things as I see them. I predict great things for Meriden in the year ahead. Happy New Year to all.
Michael S. Rohde is a former Meriden mayor and city councilor.