The evidence is everywhere — Meriden is making a comeback. The recent most visible change is the demolition of the Mills public housing project, that last visual bastion of negativity in our center city.
How many years have the Mills demolition been discussed?
But now the reality is upon us. By springtime, the buildings will be gone, to make way for an expansion of the Meriden Green.
The Pratt Street Boulevard, admittedly a nuisance while under construction, is in the final stage of completion. It will offer a new gateway into downtown and the Meriden Transit Center and Green. Meriden Commons I is nearing full capacity of new residents and Meriden Commons II will be open for residents in 2019. Together with the 24 Colony St. apartments there will be a total of 214 modern mixed-income apartments for families.
In the spring, construction will begin south of the Green at 11 Crown St. where the former Record-Journal building was located. Here, a combination of apartments and townhouses will add another 81 living units with first floor commercial space.
In addition to the downtown construction, we are witnessing a notable uptick in activities and events. The Meriden Farmers Market enjoyed its best season ever. Running for 16 weeks from July through October, the market drew record crowds and an increase in the number of farmers participating as well as other vendors. On Saturday mornings the Green came alive with live music, a flurry of tents, tables, flags and banners and a steady stream of customers. This year, the market offered a “Doubling Dollars” program funded by local foundations that doubled the purchasing power for seniors and WIC families. The response from the customers was very enthusiastic. One senior wrote to us: “Thank you for the Farmers Market Coupons, best thing ever!”
At the end of the season, the Farmers Market was forced to move from its Pratt Street location to Mill Street at the north end of the Green due to the Boulevard construction. The new location worked out beautifully with better access and parking availability. The market will now be on Mill St. next year.
Another series of events that enjoyed a very successful year was the Twilight Music Series on the Green. Record crowds attended the Friday night concerts averaging over 400 people and over 1000 attended the pop-up market concert featuring Joby Rogers giving the ultimate Michael Jackson experience. Organizers Carrie Teele and David Grodzicki also held three pop-up events with scores of craft vendors and food trucks. Carrie noted: “2018 was an amazing experience for all and we are definitely looking forward to next summer’s music series and pop-up events on the Green starting in June.” David added: “It was great to see so many people coming to the Green for the first time and enjoying themselves.”
Not to be satisfied with just a summer series, Carrie and David teamed up with the Making Meriden Business Center and other community volunteers to plan a new event — The Meriden Yulefest, on Saturday November 24 from 3 to 7 p.m. in downtown Meriden. Grodzicki stated: “We will try to bring back the downtown holiday spirit.” It will be a family-friendly event featuring a DJ, food trucks, children’s games, craft vendors, and of course a visit from Santa Claus. Santa will arrive by train at the new Transit Center and travel to Colony St. (which will be closed to traffic for the occasion), then head to the pocket park in front of the Transit Center for the tree lighting and the official welcome of the holiday season in downtown Meriden. Next, Santa will take his place in a storefront for pictures with the children.
Holiday trees will be on display until January and families will be able to place their own ornaments on the trees. The committee is encouraging everyone to bring non- perishable food items, pet supplies, toiletries, or baby products for donations to New Opportunities and receive a ticket for a selfie with Santa.
Finally, many people are asking about the status of the downtown first floor commercial space in the new apartment buildings. There is over 18,000 square feet of commercial space available and there are several leases in the pipeline. Additionally, 13 new businesses have already opened downtown or will be opening soon as reported by The Making Meriden Business Center (made up of a tripartite team of stakeholders: The Meriden Economic Development Corporation, the MidState Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Meriden Economic Development Department). Things are really starting to progress as businesses are seeing the exciting investment opportunities that Meriden now affords.
Indeed, there is evidence everywhere of exciting happenings in Meriden with more to come.
Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.
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