The Observer asked the city council candidates three questions.
A) What do you feel were the economic development successes for the city in the last two years – or what have been the failures?
B) What is the best use of MBS and why is that the best use?
C) What do you see as priorities for the council in the next two years?
*Indicates incumbent. (Candidates Eric Carlson in the 1st district and Jeremy Deprey in the 3rd district did not submit answers).
Berrios-Sampson, Mayra (D)
A) I believe we have had some good new business growth in our city. I currently serve on the Bristol Development Authority Commission and have seen the work of Justin Malley, the executive director and his great way of welcoming businesses to our city. I think that one of the main failures of the last two years are that we still have nothing downtown. We own the lot and need to work with private developers to put something in that space.
B) I think we should keep Memorial Boulevard School and explore our options with a private developer while keeping the theater and the gym. Bristol needs the arts and cultures. Our MBS task force proved that there is great use for this historic building. Bristol residents showed their support for all activities held there. It proved to us that not only is it good for our residents it also benefits downtown.
C) My priority for City Council would be to see something go in downtown. The city needs to work with a private developer to come up with different ideas to bring in. I also will make sure that our education system is the best it could be by providing our teachers and students with the proper resources they need to succeed. I want to be councilwoman because I believe that over last two years our city has not moved forward. I will promise to move it forward and make Bristol a better city. I want to be the people’s voice on the council.
Brown, Calvin (D)*
A) I think we can all be proud of the fact that there has been a little more development in the Southeast Bristol Business Park, with the addition of PODS and the expansion of some other industrial companies in the city. We have a lot more work to do to strengthen Bristol’s economy, however. We need a mayor and a city council that are aggressive in seeking businesses that want to either develop or relocate in our downtown lot. We need to attract good restaurants, shopping locations, and quality living spaces right in the center of our city, so residents don’t feel they need to leave the city to spend their discretionary income, and also so we have something to attract new young families and single professionals to live in our community. We should remember that in nearly every other community that shares similar characteristics to Bristol, they have only been successful in downtown revitalization by pursuing this kind of mixed-use approach, and I believe this is the best way for Bristol to realize the same success. Also, I’d like to point out that as the councilor from the First District, this city needs to be more aggressive in attracting and retaining quality business on the Route 6 corridor, specifically in the Big Lots Plaza, which is almost completely empty now. I think of the small business like Short Cuts where I get my haircut every few weeks. It’s small operations like that that suffer if not enough people are frequenting these larger plazas to do their shopping. This is an area where the present leadership has failed over the last few years.
B) I have been a steadfast supporter and volunteer for the reuse of the Memorial Boulevard School as a community and cultural arts center. We’ve seen time after time that whenever there is an event in that beautiful and historic theatre, people come out in droves to spend their own money and support those performances. That shows that people in this community: a.) care about the building and theater; b.) are hungry for local entertainment; and c.) will actually spend their own money locally when an option to do so is offered. We must also remember that preserving the Memorial Boulevard School and turning it into a self-sustaining venue that provides entertainment and culturally enriching opportunities for local residents may be an excellent catalyst for overall downtown development.
C) Providing quality education and services for all residents. This can only happen when there is a leadership change at City Hall. We need leaders that realize level funding our schools seven out of 12 years is catastrophic to the quality of education we can provide young people; just like mistreating public employees and operationally trying to hire workers who live outside of the city diminishes the quality of safety, health, and public works services that the city provides to all of its residents.
Redeveloping our downtown so that all people have local shopping, dining, and entertainment options that allow them to support businesses in this city, rather than somewhere else.
Preserving our historic Memorial Boulevard School and theater, so that the city has a culturally and economically enriching legacy to pass on for generations.
D’Amato, Anthony (R)
A) The mayor’s administration has effectively launched the war on blight and has seen great success. The Bristol Development Authority, under Mayor Ken Cockayne and Justin Malley, has seen increased interest and the sale of two properties in the Southeast Bristol Business Park, which sat idle for years. Lastly, the establishment of the Memorial Boulevard Task Force, along with a retooling of Depot Square’s redevelopment strategy. Overall, progress has been very visible in two short years under the Mayor’s guidance.
B) Originally Memorial Boulevard School was to be sold. The Real Estate Committee and the mayor have listened to the public, and the building will stay in city control. We need to let the MBS Task Force continue their work both in recommendation and design. Once we have true numbers for construction, forward-looking finances, and other crucial information, along with public input, a final decision can be made.
C) The priorities of the City Council should be to minimize tax increases to prepare for a State of Connecticut car tax reimbursement issue. The city can no longer rely on the state being able to fund programs or supplement the budget. In addition, we must aggressively draw business into town to increase tax revenue to offset potential losses from the state. This in turn will allow us to hold the line on taxes.
Levesque, Josh (R)
A) The most effective measure performed by the city to promote economic development has been the continued support of the Bristol Development Authority, commonly referred to as the BDA. This organization has been and I feel, will continue to be a major economic driver in Bristol. The BDA was instrumental in bringing PODs to Bristol and is Bristol’s first line of defense in selling Bristol to businesses and has been a key driver in determining what city government can do to make Bristol a more desirable location for organizations to do business.
One major failure over the last two years is the lack of a common vision and coordination between the two parties in Bristol politics and with the numerous organizations in Bristol charged with Bristol’s economic development including the Chamber of Commerce, Memorial Boulevard Task Force and the City Council. We all may have differing opinions and perspectives, but the leaders of this City, the Chamber, MBS Task Force and others must come together to compromise with each other and come up with a common vision for this city – which is exactly what I look to accomplish as a city councilman.
B) Now that the City Council as appropriated $400,000 to investigate what the MBS building requires for renovations and the creation of a non-profit to organize the maintenance, management and fundraising for the building, I feel we should wait until the MBS Task Force has completed its investigation so we know exactly what is required to make the building safe for use. I believe that the building should be saved as it is a major piece of this city’s history. I believe that the building should be saved using private funds and not on the back of the taxpayer. With the right leaders at the helm of non-profit, I believe that MBS can become an economic and civic engine for the city.
C) I see holding the line on taxes as a major priority for the City Council over the next two years. I believe that this can be accomplished not by eliminating city employees but rather by finding ways to operate the business of government more effectively and cost efficiently. Accomplishing this will not only drive operational costs down but will also enable the city to provide superior service to the citizens of Bristol.
I also see economic development as another major priority for city government and will help drive up the city’s tax base. We must do everything in our power to promote business development in Bristol. Unlike the state government, Bristol’s government must work to prove that Bristol is open for business. Whether through tax credits, tax freezes or government process, we need to encourage new businesses to come to Bristol and we must also uphold and support businesses currently doing business in Bristol.
Patton, Morris “Rippy” (D)
A) On a large scale, ESPN and Lake Compounce continue to grow at phenomenal rates. Lake Compounce has thrived as daily peak attendance was over 15,000 this year. This is largely due to an aggressive investment strategy, which included continued expansion, and new rides to attract a wider demographic of patrons. This is a blueprint that should be a conversation at City Hall.
On the local level, the city investment in Muzzy Field and bringing in the Bristol Blues, coupled with the successful string of sold-out shows at the former Memorial Boulevard School building really prove that “if you build it they will come” theory.
Where we have failed in is in the level of partnership we have offered to our local business owners. There is a reason that our city has seen more businesses close their doors over the past four years than open them, and that needs to be addressed. Creating a better quality of life for our residents includes dining and entertainment options, but if we can’t keep what we have, how do we incent new business? We do that by working with our local banks, assisting in marketing, and taking a vested interest in creating the reality of Bristol as a great option for new and experienced entrepreneurs.
B) The city is on the right track with the former Memorial Boulevard School building. The thought to create a cultural center in the name of the performing arts is something that the community rallied around and when complete, will fill a significant need in this city.
It is the best option for Bristol because the plan as proposed, has little to no burden on our taxpayers and directly addresses the quality of life issues that concern so many of our residents. As a parent, I constantly search for ways to keep my 8-year-old daughter active and involved. However, in a city with limited options, these activities often come at a high price that I don’t know is sustainable for another ten years. A community-based center will give our parents another way to allow their child(ren) to explore their creativity, likely at a reduced cost and easing some of the financial burden of raising talented children.
C) We need to capture the vision for downtown Bristol and work in unison to bring it to fruition. Revitalizing this key area brings new jobs, new residents and helps retain our current citizens, which in turn grows the tax base. Once the vision is established, we need a transparent plan with concrete deliverables. This has to be the administration that finally breaks ground on Depot Square.
I’d like to see this council work with our mayor and local committees to establish a long term plan for our city. The Plan of Conservation and Development has been a great resource for our city, but it serves as a suggestion rather than a guide. When we recruit new business, we hope to see a five and 10- year business plan, we should have one as well.
Preleski, Dave (D)
A) I think generally that the idea that building the tax base and having a more thought out strategy is beginning to sink in. Historically, we have not done a good job in formulizing a plan and developing an effective process. We recently put together a possible deal through the Bristol Development Authority that is encouraging because of the process used. A potential entrepreneur inquired about Bristol. In the past, they were referred all over city hall including land use—not a great idea as a starting point. In this instance, the entrepreneur was shown possible locations by Justin Malley and had thorough follow through from the BDA. We listened to their needs and responded in a manner that says “Bristol is open for business.” We walked an application through zoning to modify local regulations to fit a contemporary need. We need to direct potential business people to staffers who are well trained and get the idea of the importance of business expansion. Clearly state we are willing to work with you! We want your business and we are open for business!
B) I am in favor of working towards a deal to keep the building. Selling a historic building in a gateway to downtown is too divisive. I am concerned about the costs but we need to work toward a solution that offers a long term pay back for the city. This issue is more than pure economics. There is history in that building and making it robust again provides a sense of community history, culture and identity. Renovating the building can add jobs, its uniqueness can create a perception that this is a good community to work and invest. The use of the auditorium creates a potential for shows and cultural events that becomes a downtown destination which adds to downtown growth.
After reading the committee reports, we can use the space for some city departments, incubator space, veteran’s services/offices, the chamber, lobby the state for local offices, state or public college programs and developmental office space and local groups. The key is in financing or money raising, which will be the significant challenge in any proposal we review.
C) I am running because of my experience in finance, economics, and law. We have so much work to do to advance the city and we will need to set priorities as a community. As I have been knocking on doors in my district, the common theme I’m told is our citizens want to see action. Progress downtown is a key as is developing a program to add value to our town.
We need to learn from our recent past. Economic development is a key. We need to expand the tax base, create value by investing or re-investing in community projects, and show some vision for the future. We need to do so intelligently, mindful of the burden on taxpayers.
Zils Gagne, Jodi (R)
A) The current administration has done a terrific job of trying to attract new businesses to the area. We have seen two new businesses in the industrial park, and just recently, another business seeking to move to Minor Road. The Bristol Development Authority has done a wonderful job trying to attract businesses to our community, with tax incentives and grants, and I applaud their efforts. Nothing can be accomplished overnight, and this process will definitely take time, but I think we are headed in the right direction. The mayor needs to work with the council to make sure more is accomplished in the future, and I look forward to the opportunity to help, contributing to my hometown and making it an even better place.
B) I believe the city should maintain Memorial Boulevard School. I support the decision in approving the study to determine how much money is needed to bring MBS up to code, and I look forward to the results. I do not believe the city should write a blank check for the building, but I am confident that private money can be raised through fundraising, grants and community involvement. MBS is an icon for the city, and it is a part of who we are as a community. The arts are a vital part of any community and will only seek to raise our quality of life. We must do all we can to save and retain the building. A cultural arts center, and especially a theater, will only seek to make our lives better here in Bristol, and I am in favor of anything that boosts our community. Money can be found, and I am very confident that there is enough interest in MBS such that the money will be found when the time comes.
C) My priorities will be economic development, especially the Depot Square area and keeping taxes in check. The more businesses we attract to this city, the more taxpayers we have, and the less of a burden we have on our current taxpayers, both private citizens and current businesses alike. The current administration has already attracted several new businesses to the area, and this is a great first step. However, we need to see some movement on Depot Square, which has been empty for far too long. Now that Renaissance is no longer the preferred developer, we can finally get down to development. I want to see a walkable downtown that provides commodities and services to our citizens so that we do not have to leave the city limits to obtain necessary items. I want Bristol residents to be our number one priority. I want to hear people talk about how proud they are of our city, which is “all heart,” and how happy they are to live here and raise a family here. This will happen if we see businesses move into the area, if we see our downtown developed, and if we see our neighborhoods stay clean and safe.
Fortier, Mary (D)*
A) We have had some economic successes in Bristol in the last two years. We have sold lots in the Southeast Bristol Business Park. We have started a new business plan competition program, which attracted 37 applications. We supported the Bristol Blues, which contributed to their very successful initial season. We have sold three of our schools, which are in the process of being re-purposed for senior apartments, and we have updated some of our zoning regulations to allow for new industry and business uses. We finally instituted all-day kindergarten. All of these will contribute to our economic development. However, some of our large, more complicated initiatives have stalled. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the lack of success with Depot Square has been our biggest failure. The city’s plan for Depot Square is a good one. Mixed-use development that promotes a walkable downtown will change our demographics for the better and lead to other economic development. But we need leadership with a vision and work ethic to make it happen: leaders who collaborate, communicate and educate, who will get this project moving by starting the infrastructure that will be needed and who show commitment to the project and the willingness to invest in ourselves and our future.
B) Memorial Boulevard School is a treasure. I totally support the work of the Memorial Boulevard Task Force. Space limitations here prevent me from doing justice to this issue. Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and her committee, and scores of volunteers did exceptional work and all their results and recommendations are available on the city’s website, so please take the time to check out all the details.
C) First and foremost, the council’s priority should be to have priorities. In the recent past, and certainly in my term on City Council, we have not been enacting a plan but rather reacting to issues as they arise. I have never heard the current mayor mention the Plan of Conservation and Development, which acts as a long-term plan and guide for the city. Ellen Zoppo-Sassu has provided the leadership for the past two years to the code enforcement committee. Bringing the various departments to the table, communicating, providing a vehicle for information, following through, has enabled unprecedented action in the fight against blight. That approach has to be followed in everything we do as a city. I want every child in Bristol to have the best education possible. I want Depot Square to thrive. I want our city to join the Connecticut Partnership plan for employee health insurance to save money. I want our athletic fields to fill our needs for years to come. We have to decide what is going to happen to all the vacant lots where we tore down buildings. For whatever we want for Bristol, it’s time to make a plan and commit ourselves to the hard work of getting it done.
Mills, Dave (R)
A) There are some very good examples of economic development successes over the past two years. They include the attraction of a large company for the Southeast Bristol Business Park, namely Pods, which will add additional jobs as well as occupy a large space and pay taxes on a potion of the industrial area.
Additionally, the attraction of business to the former Bristol Press building and the distribution company slated to open on Minor Road.
B) The Memorial Boulevard School project is on course with the RFP information to present a proposal to give an indication on cost and feasibility of the use of the building. Once this information is presented, we will know what direction we will need to pursue.
I believe it should become the cultural community center the committee has proposed. I am totally against selling the building. I want to see the theater preserved and continue with the entertainment that was presented last spring. It is a part of the legacy of Bristol and should be renovated and re-purposed. Costs have to be considered and the private sector will have to be involved along with grants.
C) Priorities for the Council should include determining what happens with Depot Square and getting a shovel in the ground to demonstrate progress. Secondly, working together with all parties to make Bristol the community it can be. This means insuring that things like blight, cleanup of the city, and controlling costs of education by seeking more parental involvement and responsibility all need to be addressed.
A) While I would recognize that there have been some successes and failures, I would classify this as stagnate as a whole. We need to create an environment that shows that Bristol is open for business. To do that, the following processes need to begin:
*The city and Chamber of Commerce work to develop one point of contact for those who are interested in doing business in Bristol. That person should have the knowledge to bring someone from start to finish and be a friendly and welcoming person.
*Work with local banks to create a lending coop. This may also spur job growth in with our local banks.
*Review current ordinances to ensure that they apply to today’s growth and development and that they don’t hinder business opportunities.
*To the best of our ability, fill land use boards and commissions with people who have some knowledge on the subject content of those committees—not those who are appointed as friends or favors.
*Reward success and not failure for those who are investing in our city, possibly tax credits or some incentive that will drive private investors.
*Encourage our city residents to do business within Bristol. We currently have some great parks, quality restaurants, and shops that appeal to all ages. If we support the current businesses, the new will come when they see that the City of Bristol is willing to support them.
We must execute or act now. Surrounding towns are continuing to invest and grow. Why not Bristol?
B) The Memorial Boulevard School is a beautiful, historical building with great history. The residents that I have spoken to want to see something in that building. I support us investing in the building and using it for arts and theater as well as business growth opportunity. There was tremendous success in the concerts and events sponsored there over the past year. This is a positive trend…let’s keep it going.
C) The first priority is that those elected become a team that is willing to work together for the good of the community. We are the voice of the people.
We have many decisions ahead of us that include the downtown development, MBS, and education. This team needs to roll-up their sleeves, do the work, and execute a plan for each of these projects. Our work needs to be fiscally smart while continuing to provide great quality of life services and meeting the needs of our culturally diverse community.