By KAITLYN NAPLES
Bristol Rising started out as a group of 14 people meeting at a local bar, discussing the future of Bristol’s downtown. That group has grown to over 2,000 people, has held 24 meet-ups, and has been instrumental in bringing five businesses into the downtown area of the city, has hosted numerous events on the former mall property, and much more.
“Even though we haven’t broken ground yet,” Community Liaison Mark Walerysiak said, referring to Bristol’s preferred downtown developer Renaissance Downtowns, “look at what has happened in the last two years.”
Almost three years ago, Bristol approved Renaissance Downtowns to tackle the task of redeveloping its now empty lot downtown. Not only has Renaissance focused on the 17-acre parcel, it has expanded its plan to enhance the area surrounding that empty lot. In 2011, Renaissance’s plan was approved by the city council, which includes 22 buildings of mixed use, from housing, retail, dining and more. Of those 22 buildings, eight buildings are mixed residential and retail use, seven buildings are residential, one building is retail only, one is for office use only, one is a boutique hotel, two parking structures, one transit facility, and one landmark building, the company’s plan stated.
Bristol Rising popularized a new term, “crowdsourced placemaking,” which it has built upon since its existence. The group has been instrumental throughout the development process of the downtown lot since the beginning, and are residents of Bristol who offer suggestions and vote on what they’d like to see in the future of their downtown. Bristol Rising has also been featured in national news outlets, like the New York Times, Mashable.com and more.
“We are just trying to help people understand that they have the power to be involved and inspire others,”said Walerysiak, who heads the Bristol Rising groups, adding that he humbly takes pride in how Bristol Rising has suc-ceeded and flourished. “It started as just an idea, and now it is such a positive force and is changing people’s minds and inspiring the community to invest in their community and downtown.”
Bristol Rising has held surveys and votes on housing downtown, and retail, and already has 51 “letters of intent” from residents who say they would live downtown and have faith in the project. The letters, Walerysiak said, are just tangible proof that members of the community are supportive of the downtown project and the future of the community. The project has also received support for future businesses in the downtown lot, as well as business that have already opened, including the new gastro-pub Barley Vine, Bristol Billiards, Bristol’s Marketplace, Bare Bones, and Firefly Brewing Co.
Bristol Rising recently held a “residential happy hour” at Barley Vine for residents who are have expressed interest or are interested in living in the future downtown. Walerysiak said he is looking for 150 letters of intent.
In regards to the progress on the downtown project, there will be a special zoning meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. on Phase 1 of the downtown project. According to Renaissance’s plan, The first phase will include the relocation of the McDonald’s restaurant to the other side of the lot, where Discount Food Outlet once stood. The first phase then will focus on the part of the lot on the corner of Main Street and Riverside Avenue. On this part of the lot, mixed residential and retail buildings will be constructed, as well as the “Piazza,” which will serve as a gathering space and central location of the area. Additionally, on Riverside Avenue, will be a 125-key boutique hotel.
For more information on the downtown project, visit www.rdatbristol.com. For more information on Bristol Rising, visit www.bristolrising.com, or visit the office at City Hall on the second floor.
By KAITLYN NAPLES