Downtown Meriden has been inching toward resolution of many of its problems for quite some time — since at least 1992, when Harbor Brook surged out of its banks and flooded surrounding streets. Progress has been slow, hampered year after year by a shortage of funding. But, little by little, things are starting to happen.
Improvements have been made that will reduce the impact of any future flood; the former Hub shopping center site has finally been cleared, and turning it into a park and water detention area can now proceed; the Meriden Housing Authority has at last received a federal planning grant for the demolition and rehabilitation of the Mills Memorial Apartments; a mixed-use building is planned for Colony Street, directly opposite a proposed new railroad platform that will service the many daily trains that will start running between New Haven and Springfield in a couple of years; and a transit-oriented zoning district has been established that holds promise for future development of a large chunk of the downtown area.
But there’s an elephant in the middle of the room — a white elephant that dates back to 1885. The former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital complex is just a few blocks away, on Cook Avenue, and it’s still sitting there and it’s still deteriorating, as it has been for more than a decade. We haven’t heard anything about it lately, not since the city picked it up at a foreclosure sale back in October.
No one else wanted this $1.5 million, 7.1-acre ruin, but it’s hard to imagine that the downtown area can be a revitalized without doing something about the former hospital.
Best-case scenario: Within a few years, the city will be able to unload the property for a realistic price, then some developer will raze it and erect something attractive, something that at least would stop dragging down the values of the properties around it. As it stands, though, the thing is a dilapidated seven-story eyesore and a crime magnet that detracts enormously from the neighborhood. This structure must come down.
The former Factory H, which is practically across the street, has already been razed, and the city has plans for the former medical office building at 116 Cook Ave. Could the old hospital site become part of some areawide project that would actually benefit the neighborhood?
If so, what might that be? And who might build it?
The sad fact is that, so far, no one has come forward — at least no one with a proposal that the neighbors don’t strongly object to, no one with both a sound business plan and the financial resources to make it happen.
This will be a large-scale demolition project, with potential contamination and related thorny remediation issues. It will cost plenty. Who will take it on? City ownership of the building means that the blighted hospital could disappear sooner rather than later — even if Meriden does not attract a developer willing to tackle the project. In other words, the city itself may very well get stuck with the job.
Downtown Meriden is finally starting to show signs of life, but it’s not likely to get well while the old hospital site — which is right around the corner — also needs major surgery.