As U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) stood in front of the piles of debris and broken windows at Factory H Friday afternoon, it was clear that he was not on the kind of tour usually given to a visiting dignitary.
Instead of highlighting only Meriden’s attractions, local and state officials took the senator on a bus ride to some of the city’s biggest challenges. The hour-and-a-half tour was organized so that Blumenthal could see in person the major projects Meriden is hoping to obtain federal funding for.
“I have driven past and visited every one of these locations, but never seen all the links,” Blumenthal said near the end of the visit, discussing how he found it effective to see a number of different projects as part of one unified plan.
"Federal funds are scarcer than ever, so I can’t make promises, but these are very worthwhile projects," Blumenthal said. "I’m certainly going to be fighting and advocating and working as a team with the mayor and speaker Donovan, combining local, state and federal advocacy."
At about 3 p.m., Blumenthal, flanked by aides, boarded a small senior center bus at City Hall with Mayor Michael Rohde, city councilors Danté Bartolomeo and Brian Daniels, state Rep. Christopher Donovan (D-Meriden) and members of his staff, city employees and a few reporters. Each person had been given a bound presentation itemizing the city’s major projects and the amount of funding still needed for them.
The bus travelled a circuit around Meriden, heading first to the Hub site between Pratt and State Streets where the group pointed out the Mills Memorial Housing Complex north of the grassy stretch and discussed plans the city has to redevelop the area.
Once the site of a shopping mall that experienced continual flooding, the Hub’s building was torn down in 2007 and is in the midst of being redeveloped as a public park. Plans include a grass amphitheater that can hold water during wet periods to help mitigate the downtown’s historic flooding issues. The area also ties into the town’s work to uncover Harbor Brook, a stream that much of the downtown was built upon. Uncovering the brook, the city says, will also temper flooding in the area.
Meriden officials are looking for another $10.240 million to fund projects in the area to completion, according to its presentation. So far it has used $4.310 million from local, private, state and federal sources.
Next, the bus travelled to Factory H, a 7-acre brownfield site near the intersection of Cook and Hanover Streets. Buildings on the site formerly housed the International Silver Company, and were condemned and taken over by the city in 2007. Most of the structures should be demolished by the end of 2011, Economic Development Director Peggy Brennan told Blumenthal.
Brennan also said that the large brick office building on the site may remain and be converted into mixed-income housing if a study proves that it's less expensive to remove hazards like asbestos and lead paint than construct a new structure.
"Once we have the numbers we can see if rehabbing makes sense," Brennan said after the tour.
The city is looking for more than $13.4 million for environmental remediation, flood control, the extension of a trail and to create housing at the site.
The last full stop on the trip was the Red Bridge at the beginning of the Linear Trail in South Meriden, before the bus made its way back to City Hall. Only just over a mile long right now, officials plan to extend the trail from the Quinnipiac River Gorge, where it is now, all the way to Giuffrida Park on Meriden's East Side. To do so, the city is looking for $3.925 million.
Also included on the city's major project list were improvements to I-691, the Pomeroy Firehouse and a Dispatch Center at Michael Drive, and a dredging of Hanover Pond. Blumenthal told the crowd that he would work to garner funding for their priorities, but that his biggest goal was to net funding for the state's high-speed rail project that is set to run through the city.
"I’m going to be focusing on the high speed rail, which is one of Meriden’s tickets to the future," Blumenthal told Meriden Patch. He added that the rail project would dovetail well with the city's efforts in job creation, economic development, environmental concerns, "And it’s so important because it links Meriden to the rest of the state as well."
City officials said they were pleased with the visit, and hoped it would garner results.
"He has spent a lot of time in Meriden," Daniels said of Blumenthal in the senator's previous role as Conn. Attorney General, adding that many of the state's major powers have visited the city frequently. "These people recognize that Meriden is the crossroads of Connecticut."