The next few months are critical in the push to designate the site in Hartford where Samuel Colt made industrial history as a national park.
State officials must do all they can to help this happen.
The area once known as Coltsville, including the high-profile onion-domed armory where the famous Colt guns were manufactured, cleared a major hurdle in December when National Park Service advisers recommended that it be designated a National Historic Landmark. That speaks to the significance of the Colt legacy. And landmark status could help Coltsville achieve an even greater goal — becoming a national park.
With the state's congressional delegation fully behind the national park push, which will require a vote of Congress, and with an A-list of other influential supporters, you'd think there would be great momentum for the project. But there is a potentially fatal hitch.
Redevelopment of the Colt factory complex, part of which would house a national park office and a museum, has stalled for lack of cash. The developer, Homes for America Holdings Inc., says it can't proceed with the Colt Gateway project until the state Department of Economic and Community Development acts upon its request for $9.6 million. Receipt of the grant would allow the firm to settle claims with creditors resulting from the bankruptcy of one of its lenders. That would free up already committed funds, including tax credits, and get the project rolling again.
Joan McDonald, DECD commissioner, said she has scheduled a meeting with the developer for next week, but stressed that the money will not be forthcoming unless she sees evidence that the company's finances are in order. It is not the taxpayers' business to pay off the creditors of a private developer, she said.
This sounds like a circular argument that no one can win, least of all Hartford.
In a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, members of the state's congressional delegation said it would be difficult to move forward with the national park without a successful developer.
Ms. McDonald reaffirmed the state's commitment to the site, if not to the developer. She said she has communicated that to members of the National Park Service now conducting a resource study. She also is working with U.S. Rep. John Larson's office to cement that commitment.
Good. We hope that enthusiasm extends to trying to work things out with the developer. So far, the company, headed by Robert A. MacFarlane, has done a good job restoring the buildings to federal historic standards. We're not sure anyone can continue on this expensive path, especially in light of the current credit crunch, without more public financing. The state has invested $3.8 million so far.
No matter who owns or develops the property, it is vital that the state secure the domed east armory, the most recognizable Colt landmark, to protect it from further deterioration.
Of all the improvements in downtown Hartford — and there have been many — none has more economic development potential than a national park that would draw visitors from all over the world. It would be a showcase for Connecticut's role as a leader in precision manufacturing and a place to display the finest collection of Coltiana in the world.
If done right, the national park would be a destination for visitors, as well as a jumping-off point for drawing attention to the capital city's many cultural riches. Visitors could see and learn things about American history here that they could not find anywhere else.
Let's not blow this opportunity.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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