Thursday, September 23, 2010

Art Downtown: Synergy

UConn Waterbury recently unveiled a new sculpture by nationally-known artist Barton Rubenstein called Synergy. The sculpture was created as part of the Connecticut Art in Public Spaces program.

Barton was selected with the help of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, which has slide banks of thousands of artworks by artists in the state and beyond.

In addition to adding a sculpture to the UConn campus, the courtyard was upgraded with a basketball court and a paved area for outdoor activities.

One of the interesting things about this sculpture is that it was created through a collaborative process. Sometimes an artist works alone (so many times an artist works alone!), sometimes an artist creates something to meet specific guidelines. For this artwork, the sculptor worked with a committee from UConn which included administrative staff, art faculty, facilities staff, and student representatives. The committee presented the artist with a wide range of concepts, desires and needs, and the artist came back with a proposal that met the committee's input and still stayed within budget.

One of the requested features was a water aspect (symbolic of Waterbury), which is why the sculpture has a constant waterfall flowing from the tops of the steel structures. Steel was chosen as more practical than brass, but the artwork also incorporates a lighting element which creates an illusion of a brassy color where the light strikes the steel.

The twisting columns vary in height, adding visual complexity, avoiding monotony.

The perceived color of the forms changes with the light, both artificial and natural.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Main Street News

CT Main Street Center

September 21, 2010
Investment, Jobs Increase in CT Main Street Communities (Hartford, CT) - CT Main Street Center has reported that investment in Connecticut Main Street communities has increased by 17% in the period from June 30, 2009 to June 30, 2010. Since the start of the recession in 2007, the number of net new jobs in Main Street districts has increased by 18%. "Even in this challenging economic climate our Main Street programs are continuing to experience significant investment in their respective districts. It is encouraging to see major institutions invest in facilities and private developers creating more housing in these Main Street districts," said John Simone, President & CEO of CT Main Street Center.

Impressive Numbers from New London, Waterbury & Hartford's Upper Albany Neighborhood

Particularly impressive numbers have emerged out of downtowns in New London and Waterbury, as well as the Upper Albany Main Street neighborhood in Hartford. In downtown New London over $16.6 million was invested in public and private funds in the past year, most of which were directly attributable to the new Harbour Towers high-rise condominiums. Additionally, building improvements by 19 property owners accounted for $327,000 in private funding for their projects in the Historic Waterfront District.
In that same period, downtown Waterbury experienced more than $4.4 million in private investment, in large part to the rehabilitation of 70 Bank Street into 18 fully leased market rate apartments, and the construction of the new Meadow Street Commons, a 28,000 square foot, Class-A retail/storefront/office building at 228 Meadow Street.

Hartford's Upper Albany neighborhood welcomed two major projects: the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the Chrysalis Center's facilities at the site of the former Sealtest Building on Homestead Avenue, and the construction of the new Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth & Family Center on Albany Avenue. Together, the two projects represent $44 million in investment in the district - and follow the opening of the $20 million University of Hartford Performing Arts Center in 2008.

CT Main Street Center collects statistical information on economic activity in designated Main Street communities throughout the state every six months. In addition to increases in public and private investment, jobs, new businesses and building improvements, approximately 20,000 hours of volunteer time has been donated in the past year by individuals in community efforts to bring CT Main Street districts back to life. "The cumulative success of the Main Street Approach and Main Street programs on the local level has earned the revitalization strategy a reputation as one of the most powerful economic development tools in the nation," said John Simone.

CT Main Street Center
The mission of CT Main Street Center is to advocate for and help build economically vibrant, traditional main streets as a foundation for healthy communities. CT Street Center is dedicated to community and economic development within the context of historic preservation and is committed to bringing Connecticut's commercial districts back to life socially and economically.

Since the Connecticut Main Street program began in 1995, Designated Main Street Communities have generated over $880 million in public and private reinvestment in their downtowns. Over the same time, 412 net new businesses have opened and 2,324 net new jobs have been created. For every $1 spent on a local Main Street program, $73.27 has been reinvested in Connecticut Main Street downtowns, making the Main Street initiative one of the most successful economic development programs in the country.

Connecticut Main Street Center is supported by Founding Sponsors; the State of Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development and The Connecticut Light and Power Company, and by Growth Sponsors; The United Illuminating Company and the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.

CT Main Street Center
Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker
Associate Director
phone: 860-280-2556

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Scovill Homes

We're a few years away from the 100th anniversary of the construction of Scovill Manor, or, as they're known now, the Scovill row homes in the North End. Like the city's Municipal Building, also nearing its centennial anniversary, the homes have fallen into disrepair.

Last year I began attending meetings of the Scovill Homes Association and have subsequently gained a lot of insight into the problems we face. In no particular order, the problems include the following:

1. The Scovill Homes Association was very nearly defunct after an effort to acquire grant funding to restore the houses fell apart. The details of what happened aren't entirely clear to me--there are some pretty serious allegations of wrong-doing--but the end result is that the SHA fell apart. It's been sustained on life support by acting officers. On the upside, I think the SHA is making good strides towards getting back on its feet. Patricia Sockwell, in particular, is making good things happen.

2. Neighbors bicker and squabble and nitpick, letting their personal differences and grudges get in the way of working together to make our neighborhood better for everyone.

3. Many people in other parts of the city look at my neighborhood and see only crime and blight. As a result, this neighborhood is treated differently. A month or so ago, I had to get out of bed around midnight, when I had to wake up for work early the next morning, to go ask someone to turn down the volume on their car stereo. The owner of the car was very apologetic, and explained that he doesn't live in this neighborhood, he just comes here to "hang out."

4. Isolation. I look at my neighbors and I see a lot of good people doing their best to take care of their homes, but on their own. All of them are frustrated--they do what they can, but they can't do it all on their own. One of my neighbors sweeps the sidewalk every morning. Another neighbor spent three days cleaning up the alley behind her house. Some of my neighbors are elderly and can't maintain their property.

5. A certain portion of the Scovill homes is a sort of no-man's land. The area behind the rows was originally intended as a play area for children (which is why there is no playground here). When cars came along, some of those areas became parking. On older maps, the area between Wood and Ives Streets (seen below) was still Scovill property decades after the row homes were built. Scovill is now gone, but the ownership of the property is in limbo. As a parking lot, it is communal property, but no clear owner means no one is responsible for maintaining it. One of my neighbors, a renter, takes it upon himself to keep it as clean as he can, but it's too large for one man to maintain on his own.

6. Slumlords are another problem. While many of the Scovill homes are owner-occupied, many others are rental units. A few of the landlords do a respectable job of maintaining their properties, but most don't care (see point no. 3 above).

7. Abandoned properties are a big part of the problem. There are more than a few Scovill homes that are abandoned. Take, for example, 256 Wood Street. It's been abandoned for years. Children have broken the windows and last year broke in the front door (and, yes, it was children, not junkies). The property has unpaid tax bills dating back to at least 1997, totaling more than $20,000. The Mayor's aide, Steve Gambini, was recently quoted in the newspaper as saying that " Waterbury, you can’t get out of [paying taxes]." I'm not seeing anything to support that claim. (On a side note, that quote was in reference to the city auctioning off the Austin House because the owner has $13,000 in back taxes owed, even though she is working on paying off her debts. Hello! What about 256 Wood Street, which has more than that owed in back taxes?!?! Maybe this goes back to point no. 3, maybe the city simply doesn't care about this neighborhood.)

8. While I'm on the topic of whether or not the city cares about this neighborhood (so it wasn't that much of an aside after all), I'm going to have to mention the degree to which this neighborhood feels abandoned by the city. First, however, I want to emphasize that Mike Gilmore and his team have been very responsive to requests from the Scovill Homes Association to help us clean up the neighborhood. But we are still left with other problems: sidewalks that are in such terrible condition they are dangerous (do we need a million dollar injury lawsuit to get them fixed?); lack of drainage causing further decay of the sidewalks; blighted properties at the school bus stop; and dangerous intersections that could be made safe by simply adding more stop signs.

Those are the more immediate problems. There are other issues that we can't even begin to address (like the porches enclosed in cheap vinyl) until we fix these problems. We've been making progress, but it's been slow. I think the biggest problem is the feeling of isolation, that we're struggling entirely on our own. That sense of isolation leads to crippling frustration. It makes people want to give up. It's going to take a lot of energy and a lot of noise and a lot of effort to counteract that frustration, but I think we can do it. We just have to keep trying.