MERIDEN — The Making Meriden Business Center, which opened less than a year ago, is touting recent successes while requesting additional city investment.
The Making Meriden Business Center is a cooperative effort between the Meriden Economic Development Corp. (MEDCO), the Midstate Chamber of Commerce and the city. The center offers services to downtown property and business owners and potential investors. It also sponsors activities designed to bring people downtown.
Business development specialist David Cooley and Making Meriden fellow Lisa Biesak presented their budget request to members of the City Council Finance Committee last week. They also listed their goals for the upcoming year, including the opening of a downtown restaurant.
“There isn’t a ton of money,” Cooley told committee members. “... it’s pretty straightforward — rent, marketing.”
In its first year, Making Meriden has sought to create a “sense of place” by linking existing downtown events including job fairs, the farmers’ market, a Twilight Concert series, a Cinco de Mayo pop-up market, a Sunday downtown music series, Yule Fest and others.
Making Meriden also said it aided the opening of the Artists Colony pop-up, Mr. Taco, the Downtown Coffee Shop, and roughly a dozen others. Future potential developments include several restaurants, a craft beer taproom, medical supply office and a range of other small businesses.
Cooley said he could not offer specifics on pending businesses until negotiations were firm, but his goals for this year include securing a catalyst restaurant, starting a branding campaign, activating five key downtown properties, and beautifying West Main and Colony streets.
Making Meriden is seeking $71,000 in city funds to supplement the $56,000 it has received via grants. Cooley said Wallingford pays $84,000 to its downtown organization, while Middletown uses a combination of $90,000 in city funds and $75,000 from the state. Danbury and New Britain utilize special downtown tax rates to fund their organizations.
City Manager Tim Coon said Meriden is not using funds from the downtown tax rate to finance the center because its activities are considered a city-wide benefit.
“This proposal was designed to make sure that there was a steady source of funding for economic development for the city, in line with many cities across the state,” Coon said in an email. “The MMBC will only be partially funded by the city as a result of this line item. “
Making Meriden’s expenses included a combined $55,000 in salaries for Cooley and Biesak, $10,000 for rent and $15,000 for marketing, among other costs.
MEDCO’s nonprofit status allows it to accept grants from foundations, explained President Tom Welsh. His long-term goal is to have downtown business and property owners create their own nonprofit to function in a similar capacity, allowing MEDCO to move on to other projects.
“MEDCO has offered to serve as the city’s partner in managing this initiative in year two, and if necessary year three,” Cooley said. “After that, MEDCO could focus on other city economic development projects. Of course the Midstate Chamber of Commerce continues to be an active and valuable stakeholder as well.”