Despite state cutbacks, towns say progress being made

By LISA CAPOBIANCO

STAFF WRITER

Despite their losses of state revenue this past fiscal year, seven Central Connecticut communities have reported progress in economic development and capital improvements.

Last Wednesday, the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce held the 2016 State of the City & Town Breakfast at the DoubleTree by Hilton where local officials and members of the business community gathered to hear about the current economy of Bristol, Plainville, Farmington, Burlington, Wolcott, Bloomfield, and Plymouth. All of these communities have affiliate chambers within the Central Connecticut Chamber, which is the second largest chamber statewide.

For the city of Bristol, this year has brought excitement in manufacturing. The city recently celebrated the ribbon cutting of GMN USA’s 30,000 square foot facility at the Southeast Bristol Business Park. A subsidiary of GMN Germany, GMN USA relocated its U.S. operation from Farmington.

Other activity is spurring in the business park, where aerospace manufacturer AMKO LLC will build a 15,000 square foot facility right across from GMN. On the first lot, Uniprop AM, LLC has started construction of its 127,000 square foot storage/distribution center for Connecticut Portable Storage, the Connecticut/Western Massachusetts PODS franchise, which will bring 40 new jobs to Bristol.

“The city continues to be a leader in manufacturing,” said Cockayne, noting the city’s business-friendly environment.

Bristol also has continued supporting ESPN, which is still the city’s largest taxpayer.

“We are grateful that ESPN remains committed to supporting many of our city’s non-profit associations and community groups,” said Cockayne.

Meanwhile, redevelopment continues for the 15-acre downtown site that is now named, “Centre Square.” As Bristol Hospital moves ahead with bringing a 150,000 square foot medical office building on the corners of Riverside Avenue and Main Street, the city also is working on the master plan to develop the remaining downtown area not acquired by the hospital.

“This plan will be used to market the property for future developers with the end goal of creating a dynamic, pedestrian-friendly downtown that we can all be proud of,” said Cockayne, adding how the city also brings more business growth through the StartUp Bristol program.

Plymouth also is working on its downtown, which Mayor David Merchant said has been his major focus this year. Merchant said he hopes to demolish blighted properties and bring new businesses to downtown.

“We have a new economic development advisor that we just hired, and he’s working with a lot of developers downtown,” said Merchant. “I hope that within the next year we’ll see changes there.”

Currently, Plymouth is working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation  on a project that would widen Route 6 and include new sidewalks as well as on-street parking. It is uncertain when the project will be completed.

“The biggest thing were lacking downtown is parking for all the businesses down there,” said Merchant, adding that the town is going out to bid on a downtown streetscape project. “That project is moving forward.”

On the infrastructure side, a $2 million road reconstruction project is underway for Plymouth, where other projects expected to move forward include a remodeling of the firehouse and Town Hall upgrades.

The town also just started creating more trails in its North Street recreation area.

“It’s one of the most beautiful spots we have in our town,” said Merchant.

Over the past year, the town of Plainville has been aggressive in pursuing new opportunities to reduce costs while increasing services to residents, said Town Manager Robert Lee.

While moving full speed ahead in its road bond project, the town received grant funding to redo Cooke Street and a portion of Northwest Drive as well as a state grant for improvements at Norton and Paderewski Parks. The town’s LED streetlight project is near completion, with a Wi-Fi system expected to be operational by the end of this month.

The town also formed a dog park committee that is looking into the location for the development of a dog park, and recently celebrated the ribbon cutting of the high school’s turf field.

“I am very proud of all the work we have accomplished to move our community forward to make our town offer our best bang for the buck,” said Lee.

Another major project for Plainville is a $10 million upgrade of the sewage treatment plant to reduce phosphorus discharge through the Pequabuck River. In order to assist Plainville in this project, the state passed legislation that increases the town’s grant reimbursement from 30 percent to 50 percent, said Lee. The upgrade is expected to be completed around 2019.

Both Lee and Farmington Town Manager Kathy Eagen said an exciting project for their towns has been closing Plainville’s gap on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, which runs from New Haven to Northampton, Mass. The town of Farmington plans to extend the trail from Red Oak Hill Road in Farmington, over Route 6 and into Northwest Drive in Plainville.

Although the town made some adjustments in its budget due to state budget changes, public and youth programs have continued strong for the town of Wolcott. The Board of Education added a lacrosse team to the town’s list of sports programs.

On the recreation side, Wolcott celebrated the grand opening of its dog park last October, and created a 3.7 mile walkway around the Scoville Reservoir.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Wolcott Mayor Thomas Dunn.

Over the past three years, Wolcott has been working on a road project, which is near completion.

“At the end of the road project, we would have paved 45 miles of road,” said Dunn. “That should be coming to an end very soon.”

Known as one of the fastest growing small towns statewide, Burlington completed another phase of the town’s water line. The town will soon finish its fire station, and there is a library expansion in the works.

On the economic development side, Burlington is expecting some new restaurants to roll in, including a smaller Greenhouse Café that will expand into outdoor seating on the Route 4 corridor.

“We’re continuing to move forward in infrastructure enhancements and strategic land use initiatives to best position ourselves for further growth and development while preserving our rustic character,” said Burlington First Selectman Theodore Shaffer.

The town of Bloomfield also is doing well economically, reported Economic Development Director José Giner.

PHOTOS by TAMMI NAUDUS