Meriden made a pitch during a conference in New Haven late last month to introduce the city's Opportunity Zones to possible investors. This may be a small step, but it shows that the city is aggressively marketing itself for economic development. There will be another event for potential investors Thursday at the Silver City Ballroom downtown.
The Opportunity Zone program, part of the 2017 tax reform act, allows investors to use capital gains to redevelop struggling cities. Three of Connecticut’s 72 Opportunity Zones are in Meriden. Bristol, Middletown and New Britain are among the other cities that presented proposals for their downtown districts.
Meriden Economic Development Director Joseph Feest; David Cooley, business recruitment specialist; and Matt DaCorte from the MHA were ready with a 62-slide presentation touting the potential opportunities here. The Making Meriden Business Center also took part.
Selling the city to investors hoping to defer or avoid taxes means convincing them the city has the quality of life to support development. Cooley and Feest shared information about nonprofits, schools, parks, and Meriden Markham Airport.
“The (Meriden) Green was a big focus,” Feest said. “The governor liked it, and it shows Meriden has done some complicated projects.”
Priorities for the city include many properties near the railroad tracks on Colony Street, within walking distance of the train station and therefore ripe for transit-oriented development. One proposal is for a $43 million mixed-use commercial and residential complex on West Main Street that would include an 800-seat music theater.
It remains to be seen what will come of all this, and that will depend in part on how new projects will affect, and be affected by, all the new housing that’s going up, some of it subsidized and some market-rate.
We need to accept that the center of Meriden will never be what it once was — that the hustle and bustle of people coming downtown on buses to go to the bank, the Post Office, to pay the light bill and shop at the department stores, is a thing of the past. Those were the days when fewer people had cars and many more people worked in the big factories that are now just a memory. As a manufacturing center, Meriden’s glory days started fading after World War II.
The “good old days” are gone. Like so many other cities, Meriden needs a new economic basis for a livelier and more prosperous downtown. So it’s gratifying to see that some dedicated people are working toward that end.