MERIDEN — Standing on the downtown Hub site Friday afternoon, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recalled a conversation with Mayor Michael S. Rohde about some of the key projects in the city and the need for them to occur in order for the city to thrive.
The most important of all projects, Malloy said, was the need to improve flood control in downtown in order for economic development growth. Having led a flood control project of his own as mayor of Stamford, Malloy is no stranger to creating a dry downtown.
“I immediately saw the wisdom of this project ... It makes too much sense, quite frankly, and I don’t know why other governors didn’t engage in this project,” Malloy said.
After close to 20 years of planning, city, state and federal officials broke ground on the Hub redevelopment project which will create 2.3 million cubic feet of floodwater detention in downtown and a central park for the city. The city’s downtown includes a long history with 11 major floods since the late 1860s, including two in the 1990s that resulted in $26 million in property damage. The flooding caused businesses and major employers to relocate out of downtown and led to the demise of the building on the Hub, formerly the Meriden Mall.
Funding for the project was slowly acquired over the years to demolish the building and for some environmental remediation costs. The 14.4-acre Hub site was also once home to an International Silver Co. factory and has a long history of environmental contamination. The full project is expected to cost more than $13.2 million with work being done by Meriden-based LaRosa Construction Co. LaRosa submitted the lowest bid for the project, narrowly edging out a Wallingford-based contractor.
The city has received $9,899,793 in state and federal money, which includes $240,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, $4 million in Urban Act and Brownfields Pilot funding through the state Department of Economic and Community Development, and $5,659,793 in funds from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Another $3.15 million has been legislatively approved and needs to be released by the State Bond Commission. The city has been notified it is likely to receive the funding next year.
In order for the project to begin, however, a portion of the legislatively approved funding needed to be released by the State Bond Commission, which is headed by the governor. Approved in 2007, the first $3.85 million was not released to the city until June of this year.
“Mistakes get made,” Malloy said. “Conduits too small, rivers paved over, too little ground space for water to accumulate appropriately without doing damage. It shouldn’t take this long for government to correct its mistakes. Under my administration it doesn’t take so long.”
Department heads from Malloy’s administration gathered with city staff members including City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior, City Planner Dominick Caruso, Director of Public Works Robert Bass and others for a series of meetings in the summer and fall of last year. Kip Bergstrom, the deputy commissioner for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, discussed those meetings at the ceremony.
“We came to the quick conclusion that the absolute critical path to unlock development in downtown Meriden was the one flood control project that had been stuck in the Bond Commission process for some years,” Bergstrom said. “What happened directly as a result of those conversations, three department commissioners … jointly submitted a request to the Bond Commission with their combined endorsement that this was an absolute critical project.”
Malloy also credited state Sen. Dante Bartolomeo for pushing the project as soon as she was elected last November, describing her as a good friend since meeting.
“Meriden has more challenges than most communities and certainly more than it deserved,” Bartolomeo said. “People have doubted these projects, but we want you to know your elected leaders are here today to say they never doubted that we would get to the point where we’re a growing and thriving community.”
Rohde, who submitted the original City Council resolution to address flood control in the early 1990s, said he is excited about the possibility the Hub project brings to the city.
“This is a big deal,” Rohde said. “This is something that is historic. This is something that is transformational and the people in this room here today made it happen.”
Rohde who is running for his third full term in Tuesday’s election, was criticized by his Republican opponent Manny Santos one day earlier for the multiple groundbreaking and high-profile events the city has held during the election season and the use of city resources to make them happen. Among the events were the Platt High School and City Park groundbreakings, the start of demolition at the former TD Bank building on the Hub and former Church and Morse and Liseo buildings on south Colony Street and the Hub event, Friday.
“Unfortunately, Mayor Rohde believes all the city resources are at his disposal,” Santos said at a City Hall press conference.
Rohde joked about Santos’ comments and press conference during Friday’s ceremony, stating that the city likes to “celebrate good things despite what some people say.”
“As mayor, I get a lot more credit than I deserve,” Rohde said. “Someone thought I could orchestrate millions of dollars worth of projects that have taken years and years into a 30-day timeframe just before the election. I wish I had that power.”
In a phone interview, Friday, Santos said the Hub ceremony was “long overdue” and “probably the one groundbreaking that should have occurred.”
“Not all of these other ones,” Santos said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty were also among those in attendance who praised Meriden and its leadership for bringing the project to fruition.
When completed, the Hub parcel will include a park with an amphitheater and pedestrian bridge and an excavated Harbor Brook. LaRosa Construction is in the process of removing the former TD Bank building from the site. Workers could be seen removing scrap metal from the property Friday as they prepare for demolition. Expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete, the park will also include 1.2 million square feet in economic development space that will be removed from the 100-year flood plain.
“Meriden’s moving forward,” Malloy said. “A lot of good things are happening and we want to be a part of that and we’re very proud to be part of it.”
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