MERIDEN — Improved communication between City Hall and residents, and bolstering Meriden’s image were two key suggestions in a recent survey commissioned by the city.
Other concerns included attracting businesses and market rate housing around the train station, eliminating blight and increasing the tax base. The survey will be used by members of a steering committee drafting a 10-year Plan of Economic and Community Development. A total of 860 people responded.
Improving perception and engaging the community in events and programs can go a long way toward attracting investors, according to a summary of the survey done by BFJ Planning.
Based on the feedback, the city plans to hire a communication specialist to market the city and better engage the public.
”There is a lot happening in Meriden, but it is not tied together,” according to the survey summary. “The city can have a role coordinating and publicizing activities by non-profits, community-based organizations, schools, religious institutions, clubs, etc.”
David Cooley, business recruitment specialist for the Making Meriden Business center, believes the public has a role in changing the perception.
“The survey statistic that blew my mind was that 72 percent of respondents said they would not go downtown,” Cooley said. “After all the great improvements this city has made, I just can’t wrap my head around that thought process from our own residents.”
Despite the slow progress, there has been investor interest and Cooley is confident the city will find a catalyst restaurant or brew pub for downtown.
“Residents who want lower taxes can help by being open to visiting downtown and supporting our businesses,” Cooley said. “Downtown is clean, it’s safe and with more foot traffic, potential investors will be more willing to activate some of our empty spaces.”
City Councilor David Lowell has not reviewed the survey results, but feels there is a need for everyone to be honest about the city’s strengths and weaknesses. Changing perception is the responsibility of city officials, the business and non-profit community and the general public.
“I think it’s important that the public at large speaks truthfully about the current image, which isn’t as bad as some people say,” said Lowell, who chairs the council’s Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee. “The city has come a long way and it has a way to go, as times change and as businesses change, we need to be fluid and adaptable.
City Manager Tim Coon said the city is working to fill a strategic communications specialist position and add new internal and external software platforms.
“Every city can enhance its cohesiveness,” Coon said in an e-mail. “The important thing to do is to always be building that cohesion and put it in the bank for when there are the inevitable strains that confront a (community).”
The survey also noted the city needs to advertise its successes. It recommends a marketing campaigning, improved signage, and improved governmental procedures.
“Branding — Meriden is no longer the ‘Silver City,’” the summary read. “A logo/slogan/message/design will help to establish an identity and make the city more recognizable.”