Work “should begin any time now,” City Manager Lawrence Kendzior said recently.
Work on what? Work on Central Park, that’s what.
And where’s this Central Park? Well, that’s what I’ve decided to call the plot of land that used to be called the Meriden Hub, and before that Meriden Mall, and which has also been the home of Canberra Industries and the site of the circus when it comes to town, and also the seasonal ice-skating rink. Way back when, the Big Shop of the International Silver Co. was there, as were lots of small businesses along East Main and Pratt streets.
As late as the early 1960s the joint was still jumpin’, and old-timers will recall such establishments as the Far East Restaurant, Sklar’s Sporting Goods, Harry’s Israel, Clements Jewelers and the Melody Luncheonette, all cheek by jowl with each other, though even then there were some vacancies. Older-timers will remember a downtown that now can be seen only in photos such as the ones taken in 1952 when President Truman gave a speech in front of the newspaper building and just about every foot of sidewalk had a storefront facing it and just about every storefront was open for business.
But right now it’s just a big, flat, wind-swept parcel smack-dab in the center of downtown. So why not “Central Park”? It’s going to be a park and it’s about as central as you can possibly get.
And now there are signs that the agonizingly slow process of making it a reality is again about to show incremental progress. The last building on the site — a free-standing bank with gigantic concrete beams and, as it turned out, plenty of asbestos to get rid of safely — is just about down now, and for several months there’s been an attractive (and fairly expensive-looking) sign at the corner or Pratt and East Main showing how pretty it will all look ... someday.
There was even a big groundbreaking fiesta — held about five minutes before the last election — with the mayor and various other city officials, and even Gov. Dannel Malloy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, in attendance.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s expected to take about 18 months to spread $13.2 million over 14.4 acres and make Central Park something to crow about — something that will include an “iconic” pedestrian bridge (although the word “iconic” tends to conjure up visions of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty, and it’s a pretty good bet that this footbridge to State Street won’t be up to that standard) and a Harbor Brook that will be open to the sky for the first time in decades. The new park itself will also serve as a detention pond for the day when the next flood inevitably comes along; in addition to other flood control measures that are already in place, the park should help keep that flood from being anywhere near as bad as the last big one, in 1992.
But we need to be patient, because a project like this involves, or has involved, not only city agencies but also the state departments of Economic and Community Development, and Energy and Environmental Protection, not to mention the Attorney General’s office and even the Bond Commission.
As for the name, well, Central Park sounds just about perfect, but it might be better to involve the whole city in a contest to pick a name, as was done in 1981, when students at the three high schools in town competed to name the same piece of land.
This time, though, let’s hope the word “hub” doesn’t come up.
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com.