OPINION: Staying optimistic in downtown Meriden

One of the nagging aspects of a plan to transform buildings on Colony Street in Meriden is it sounds like a pipe dream. Can you really expect young people to flock to downtown Meriden?

It’s an ambitious vision, accompanied by glowing rhetoric: “We'll be bringing some life back to Colony Street. Some of the buildings here are beautiful and historic. You have the beautiful new train station and the beautiful Green. With the updates and new management, it's going to be beautiful." That was expressed by Johnny Grunblatt, and it indeed sounds beautiful.

You may have noticed recently that Havn Ventures’ Mendel Paris, who partnered with Grunblatt to purchase the Colony Street properties at a December bankruptcy sale, is no longer involved and the partnership dissolved.

That can feed pessimism, which there is already enough of when it comes to downtown Meriden, though City Councilor Michael Rohde told the Record-Journal he was optimistic Grunblatt could complete the project. It’s notable that Grunblatt is already starting repairs on the properties.

We are about to learn more about how this is going to play out. A recent story headlined “Developers seek changes for dramatic downtown rehab project” outlined how the Zoning Board of Appeals will soon be handling requests for more apartment units and other changes to the buildings. Plans have called for studio apartments facing the train station and Green, a restaurant, coffee shop, fitness center, gaming room, food court, bike storage …

At the moment, it seems like too much to expect people to think that it will actually happen. But there have been a lot of changes downtown, for the better, that at one time or another you would have thought unlikely. I watched one summer as machines pushed dirt across a vacant area that would become the Meriden Green. Now, instead of mounds of dirt, which replaced buildings that would get flooded, there is a beautiful park that includes what some derisively refer to as a bridge to nowhere. But what would you have rather seen as part of a flood-control project?

We won’t be going back to the days when pedestrians crowded city streets and endless storefronts where you could get anything you needed. For many cities, those days are long gone. But what the Silver City has going for it is a fan base, plenty of people of many generations who were raised in the city and want to give back, to stick around maybe and make a difference. That was brought to mind recently when I read a story about new Project Excel awards.

It wasn’t pessimism that enabled four recently recognized city high school seniors to handle learning English and performing well in school at the same time. Now they’re headed for college. One told the R-J she plans to go to law school and become an immigration lawyer. The Dual Language Top Scholars awards now recognize this remarkable achievement, and go to two students each at Maloney and Platt high schools.

It’s hard to say whether any of them would want to live in a place like the one Johnny Grunblatt is trying to build, but try telling those students and their families that Meriden isn’t a place where young people can thrive.

Maybe if you build it they will come.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.



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