OPINION: City needs to invest in marketing downtown

OPINION: City needs to invest in marketing downtown

Over the past few years, Meriden has seen an unprecedented level of public and private sector investment (approaching a staggering half-billion dollars).

The Flood Control Project has been the linchpin spurring downtown investments. 

The signature piece of the project is the award-winning Meriden Green. The Green, together with the widening of numerous bridges along the brook (from a 25-year storm capacity to a 100-year storm capacity) and channel improvements will constitute a $36 million project when completed (the project is now 70 percent complete).

Another significant investment (primarily state-funded) is the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) initiative that includes the new Transit Center with the up-and-over pedestrian bridge, elevated track, and parking garage (costing $20 million).

The Meriden Housing Authority teamed up with the city, State of Connecticut and private developers Westmount Management and Pennrose Properties LLC to develop respectively the 24 Colony St. apartments and Meriden Commons I & II. These projects, together with developer Michaels Crown St. site, bring the total cost of these public/private investments to $112 million.

The city also completed several street, sidewalk, and traffic projects and created a new Pratt St. boulevard “gateway” to downtown at a total cost (primarily state funding) of $5 million.

Rounding out the major investments in Meriden are the three like-new high schools (Maloney, Platt and Wilcox Technical School) that are now state-of-the-art learning institutions with a total cost of $300 million (mostly funded by state cost-sharing grants). 

Once again, these eye-popping investments in Meriden are unprecedented and speak to the tremendous hope for Meriden and its future.

But on a cautionary note, we must realize that we are in a very competitive environment for economic development. Every other Connecticut municipality is seeking new businesses and residents. Many are ahead of Meriden in providing the resources to spearhead economic development efforts and attract businesses.

And while Meriden now has a golden opportunity to use to maximum advantage the bountiful investments made in the city, we must make every effort to capitalize on this advantage and make smart moves to intensify our outreach and marketing efforts. This will lead to an increase in the city’s grand list and provide new amenities (restaurants, entertainment) for residents.

One promising downtown organization for promoting economic development is The Making Meriden Business Center. 

I recently asked David Cooley, director of the center, about his views, he said: “We have been working hard to attract new businesses on a shoestring budget. During our many meetings here, we consistently hear about Meriden’s image problem. While downtown Meriden is certainly clean and safe after its rebirth, the city, as a whole, needs to come together to resolve this ongoing perception issue. The community and its residents can help by supporting existing downtown businesses and helping to spread the word that downtown Meriden is revitalized and on the cusp of a renaissance.”

He continued: “But a well-executed marketing campaign touting a new Meriden is also urgently needed, and that requires significant investment. In the meantime, while always seeking new businesses, we are cultivating Meriden’s impressive grassroots arts community to create ‘The Artists Colony,’ a centrally located district to build a thriving, vibrant downtown neighborhood. We expect this will provide an immediate catalyst and economic driver for Meriden as new or expanding businesses look for potential locations.”

I concur.

The Making Meriden Business Center should be strengthened and adequately funded to ensure that we are taking full advantage of the many significant investments already made and those that are to come. It is only common sense to make this a priority.

Another downtown business owner and long-time Meriden stakeholder, Bruce Burchsted, added his thoughts: “Having spent nearly half century in business in downtown Meriden, I have long witnessed the continuing decline of commerce in the inner city. Over the years there have been a few half-hearted attempts to rejuvenate the area, but never have I seen anyone address the underlying problems until these past few years — a substantial investment in infrastructure, especially with flood control and brownfields restoration; transportation issues have been addressed, affordable and market rate housing construction is booming and we now have an award-winning town green.”

Burchsted added, “With so much going for Meriden right now, the time is right for a rebirth of this downtown. The one thing that is needed is a very intensive and focused marketing program to entice commerce back in. MEDCO is making an effort, but on a shoe-string budget. The city needs to jump in with some significant funding. The investment made now will reap rewards for years to come. I’m hoping the ‘powers that be’ recognize how important this is, lest we miss our opportunity.”

Progress is change for the better. Meriden has made great progress so far, with more to come if we prioritize economic development and devote the resources, energy,and commitment to make it happen.

The decision is up to us.

The time is now.

Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city coucilor of Meriden.


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