Blight fight continues

By KAITLYN NAPLES
STAFF WRITER
The city continues its efforts to attack blight, and fix up neighborhoods like the West End to make them more desirable and safe to live, work and play.
Last week, the city council agreed to allow the Bristol Development Authority to seek assistance for West End neighborhood property owners. However, there will be no exchange of money, only technical assistance from experts.
“There are no grants, just expert advice and ideas to come into the community, work with mixed-use property owners and give guidance,” said Bristol’s Grants Administrator Justin Malley, who said he just found out about this program two months ago.
That program is the Connecticut Main Street Center’s “Come Home to Downtown,” which focuses on working with mixed-use real estate development in selected communities with technical assistance “to get the highest and best use of the property to attract residential tenants to buildings,” Malley said.
This program is in its second year and is the result of a collaboration between Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC) and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, to address the needs that are negatively impacting Connecticut’s Main Street districts, CMSC’s website said. Last year was its pilot program of “Come Home to Downtown” and Waterbury, Middletown and Torrington were selected along with three property owners.
The program brings in experts from the center, along with architects to discuss viable redevelopment options on specific buildings. The program covers four topics with property owners — determine what financing would likely be needed for redevelopment; perform an assessment of zoning and regulatory requirements; review the downtown management function; and measure the downtown’s walkability.
This year, CMSC will be choosing two communities to work with, and each community chosen will receive an area development audit, model building analysis, and an urban design audit.
“The BDA (Bristol Development Authority) has been looking for programs to assist with re-development, specifically in the West End,” Malley said, especially since the recent enforcements on blighted properties under the newly elected Mayor Ken Cockayne’s administration.
The city recently tore down a multi-family home at 43 Park St., as part of its attack on blight, and has plans to do the same to a home at 14 Lincoln Place. Both homes were condemned after property owners failed to do anything with the homes over the last few years. The city has also recently added $500,000 to its code enforcement, and will be placing liens on properties that are being neglected, so the city will get its money back when the land is sold.
Malley said the Come Home to Downtown is a “win-win” for everyone because it won’t cost the city any money, but it will be able to get advice on future plans for three properties in the West End, which will be 177 West St., 156 School St., and 171 School St. All of these properties are mixed-use, with commercial space on the bottom and residential above.
“We can use any advice we can get,” Malley said, adding the city should hear within the next month if it has been awarded the grant. “This would be a perfect fit to go along with the other enforcements the city is doing right now.”
The Bristol Development Authority has several programs and initiatives for property owners and potential property owners, and Malley said if the city is approved for the CMSC initiative it will be able to carry out the suggestions and continue to change the West End neighborhood for the better.
If Bristol is approved, the city would appoint an advisory team to work with the center throughout the project, which would be comprised of representatives from economic development, planning, property owners, elected officials, and more.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com.