By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Public outreach has officially kicked off for Bristol’s downtown redevelopment process.
Last Tuesday evening, Milone & MacBroom Inc., the Cheshire-based firm partnering with the Bristol Development Authority to conduct a “master planning” process as part of the redevelopment of the former Bristol Centre Mall site, held its first public outreach event at Rockwell Park. As people were heading to and from the “Rockin’ Out at Rockwell Park” summer concert series, many spoke one-on-one with the planning consultant.
During a BDA Downtown Committee meeting last Thursday, Patrick Gallagher, planner I of Milone & MacBroom, said many of the reported 700 people who attended the concert stopped by the firm’s booth near the amphitheater and the Pequabuck River bridge. The consultant not only informed the public about its work with the city on redeveloping downtown, but also presented some exercises, including one that asked people to select their favorite downtown visual preferences for buildings, public gathering spaces, green spaces and streetscapes.
“We were very successful at getting the word out to the general public,” said Gallagher. “This early in the process it’s really important to get the word out, to get people excited about the project.”
Bristol resident and preservationist Cheryl Barb was one member of the public who stopped by Rockwell Park. During the meeting, Barb expressed concern about the lack of physical connection between the future Memorial Boulevard Community Cultural Center and the 15-acre downtown site where Bristol Hospital has proposed a 100,000 square foot medical office building on the corners of Riverside Avenue and Main Street.
Barb emphasized the importance of connecting one space to another to create a “synergy of economic activity.”
“I do not see that happening there,” said Barb. “If women and people who can go to the [Memorial Boulevard] Cultural Center can’t walk downtown to a restaurant in an easy, fast way, it’s not pedestrian friendly.”
The goal of Bristol’s master planning project is to determine how the newly named Centre Square site (formerly Depot Square) may be redeveloped, what the city can do to facilitate such development, and how the city can ensure a cohesive, vibrant, and pedestrian-friendly downtown.
A major part of this process involves a website devoted to the project that the BDA recently launched, bristolcentresquare.com, which features general information, project documents, and a Downtown Bristol Visioning Survey that allows users to take part in the visioning process for Centre Square by giving suggestions and feedback for the site’s redevelopment.
As of last Thursday, Gallagher said the survey received over 200 responses.
“We’ve had very good turnout,” said Gallagher, adding that the website already has up to 1,300 page views. “We’re very optimistic with our numbers so far.”
Gallagher hopes that the survey responses will continue growing as the firm continues to make more public appearances. Milone & MacBroom is planning to have a booth at the Rockwell Park Summer Festival on Aug. 20.
“We’re going to try and keep it informal like the last one,” said Gallagher. “We’re still in the visioning process, so we just want to get the word out, share information as we get it.”
BDA Executive Director Justin Malley said people seem to like the “informal approach” during these kinds of public events.
“I think folks felt pretty at ease [last] Tuesday,” said Malley.
City Councilor Dave Preleski, who served as acting chairman during the meeting, said this part of the downtown redevelopment process is critical.
“It’s important for people to keep an open mind as we proceed,” said Preleski. “All of the opinions we receive have value.”
“We need to get a gauge on what’s acceptable to the public, to the policymakers to others,” said Malley. “When we go out and sell, it’s not fair for us to sell… an opportunity to an entity that we know it may not work. We need to know what’s going to at least be in the realm of possibility that the public will be interested in before we go out and sell it.”
Meanwhile, Bristol Hospital is still on track for getting a developer on board this fall. The proposed medical office building will be a combination of the hospital’s medical offices that are leased throughout Bristol and other towns.
Tiffany Fernandez, project lead for the site, said the hospital has recruited “numerous” local, national and international interested developers.
“There is interest in Bristol, and we’re very excited about it,” said Fernandez, adding that the city and the hospital have worked well in understanding the community needs.