Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Special Services District

Last week there was an article in the Republican-American about the efforts of Main Street Waterbury to create a special services district in downtown. According to the article, downtown business/building owners like Phil Nargi are resisting the district, because their taxes will increase by a few dollars. Nargi was quoted as saying that he already spends money to shovel his sidewalks, and he doesn't want to pay to shovel his neighbor's sidewalk (sorry for not quoting directly; the paper's website is down right now). I think Nargi is missing several points. First, there's a good chance he would end up paying less to the services district than he currently is spending. Second, the district would do more than just shovel his walkway; they would bring a wide variety of services that will increase the number of people downtown, which would then increase Nargi's business. Third, if his sidewalk is shoveled, but none of the rest of the walk is shoveled, his business will be negatively impacted. Neighboring businesses have to work together as a team if they want to do well.

Below is an article published in today's Hartford Courant about the Downtown Manchester Special Services District. It's more than just shoveling sidewalks!

Goal Of Group: A Vibrant Main Street
Strategic Plan Offers Recommendations To Improve Downtown

January 2, 2007
By REGINE LABOSSIERE, Courant Staff Writer

MANCHESTER -- Bringing in street musicians, keeping restaurants and other businesses open at night and encouraging young professionals to move to Main Street are ways to make the area more vibrant.

Those are some of the ideas the Downtown Manchester Special Services District is counting on to help re-energize the town's center over the next several years.

The special services district commission worked to assemble a strategic plan during the past year and a half that it hopes will lead to downtown's improvement.

The study was spurred by a similar plan the town conducted 15 years ago and commission members felt it was time to conduct another one, said Tana Parseliti, downtown manager of the district.

"They really wanted to revisit downtown's place in the marketplace and how can we move forward given new conditions," Parseliti said. "It was time for us to do it again because an interval of time had passed. Since '91, there has been an explosion of Internet shopping, changes in ways of doing business, more big box stores."

And so the commission embarked on a new study, creating a vision committee that studied how the downtowns in Middletown, West Hartford and South Norwalk were reinvented by more businesses and people moving in.

The new strategic plan has various recommendations, such as property owners, businesses and the town helping to enhance downtown's appearance by removing pigeon droppings, gum and graffiti, and having the police help to continue increasing public safety. The plan also calls for developing the upper floors of downtown buildings, such as renovating apartment or office space and building on the underused parking lots, creating more real estate.

"We would certainly love to have more businesses in the downtown. ... Many times people speak about the benefit of having more street-front pedestrian-oriented businesses, anything that draws more street traffic to Main Street," Parseliti said.

Mark Pellegrini, director of economic development and neighborhood services, is an ex-officio member of the downtown commission. He said certain items of the plan, such as making the area more pedestrian friendly, have started. The street has been resurfaced and repaved and next year there will be textured crosswalks so motorists will be more aware of where pedestrians are.

"The more difficult activities will be trying to get the upper floors developed and maybe trying to get some new development in the downtown over the next few years," Pellegrini said.

He said it would be difficult to get property owners and investors to make investments. The town might be able to help with financing to come downtown.

"Certainly, there's possibilities. I think everyone would like to try to speed that up if we can, try to reach out more to the property owners who want to do something but can't quite put all the pieces together," Pellegrini said. "I think [the commission has] a very practical and achievable plan and the town will continue to work with them."

Contact Regine Labossiere at rlabossiere@courant.com.

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