RJ 150: Meriden’s Townline Square plaza through the years

RJ 150: Meriden’s Townline Square plaza through the years

Record-Journal


Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Record-Journal on March 5, 2015.

MERIDEN — While Townline Square is now a bustling plaza where area residents can go for lunch, grocery shopping, or to work out, it wasn’t always that way. Three decades ago, the spot was home to local movie house Meriden Twin Cinemas, and before that, it was a peach and blueberry orchard.

The 29-acre parcel of land that straddles Meriden and Wallingford began being developed into a 300,000-square-foot shopping center in the late part of 1988, and was finished in the middle of the following year. A parking lot with 1,500-car capacity was also built to accommodate shoppers looking to take advantage of the new Bradlees Department Store, ShopRite Supermarket, Marshall’s, Rickel Home Center, Toy Works and other stores that opened in the shopping center.

New York-based developer Rosenshein Associates was responsible for the plaza, as well as other shopping projects in Meriden, including the former Meriden Mall on State Street, now the Meriden Green.

Then-president of the firm, Bernard J. Rosenshein, spoke at opening day of the shopping center, which included a special brunch and hot air balloon rides.

According to a Record-Journal article from July 1988, Rosenshein said, “Over 500 people will be employed by the merchants of Townline Square, and we estimate that during the first year of business sales will exceed $100 million. That means we’re greatly increasing the tax base in Meriden and Wallingford.”

The shopping center didn’t come without challenges, however.

Before any excavation or demolition began, city Inland Wetlands and Watercourse Commission members required Rosenshein Associates to overhaul drainage plans after a four-hour meeting in September 1987, during which neighbors expressed concern over flooding in their yards.

At the time, developers proposed building a storm water detention pond in a wetland area — a proposal that city officials worried would result in erosion during construction.

The water retention issues were eventually solved, but nevertheless soil erosion following a week of heavy rains in July 1988 caused delays and flooding on the site.

To shore up those flooding issues, “bulldozers dammed rain into several large pools and pumps ran around the clock to clear other parts of the site, as (an) emergency crew scrambled to prevent further damage to nearby lawns,” a Record-Journal article from the time says.

Drier days came and construction at the plaza was ultimately completed, but problems persisted.

In November 1989, Rosenshein Associates was required by police and traffic officials to make traffic improvements after Wallingford and Meriden police attributed at least four accidents to unfinished traffic improvements.

Those improvements included getting newly installed traffic signals operational and adding pavement markings and signs to the plaza, resolving the issue.

Traffic improvements to the plaza, however, continued as recently as last year when a roundabout was added to the entrance of Townline Square.

Associate City Engineer Howard Weissberg said Wednesday that the roundabout and related traffic updates solve some lingering issues with the parking lot by widening turning radii and pushing the “throat” of an exit lane further back to accommodate more cars waiting for a green light to leave.

“It was just a very, very unpleasant parking lot to turn into,” Weissberg said. “It’s much more pleasant now, they did a good job with it.”

Greenwich-based Urstadt Biddle Properties Inc. purchased the property in 2001, according to city assessor’s data available online. Storefronts in the plaza have changed over the years, as well.

Lisa Rosenshein, current president of the development firm and Bernard’s daughter, said that she had only been “tangentially” involved in the building of Townline Square.

She was, however, very familiar with the ideal composition of such shopping centers, her firm having built them for more than 50 years.

“These ventures my father built had Bradlees(es) and Caldors in them, and now both of those are no longer in business,” she said. “Retailers change direction a little bit, of course. Ideally, you want a good mix of both (national chain stores and local stores). You want people to recognize the nationals, but you also want some specialty and local guys who know the area and who know their customers.”

The plaza now is home to more than 25 stores, including the Edge fitness center at its northern end.

Prior to that space being filled, Urstadt Biddle Properties Inc. considered knocking down part of the building to make more parking for a new potential standalone store, similar to McDonald’s now, Assistant City Planner Tom Skoglund said.

“With the economic downturn, there were some empty spaces in there,” he said. “They had trouble filling those spaces for a while, but that’s turned around now. It’s been a good turnaround for them in the last few years. There’s just excellent traffic in the area now, which is good because that’s an important plaza for us.”

mcallahan@record-journal.com (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @MollCal


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