June 6, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
One problem with the northern part of Hartford's Main Street
- the part that some residents are re-branding as "Uptown" - is
that it looks uninviting.
"If you ended up there by accident, you wouldn't look to find
something to eat there, you might not seek out a hardware store there," said
Patricia Johnson of the Community Economic Development Fund, describing
the neighborhood's problem. "It's the physical appearance. ...
The ultimate goal is to have that street one on which anyone would
feel safe and comfortable."
To that end, a small group of people from the Northeast Neighborhood
Revitalization Zone, the Hartford Enterprise Zone Business Association,
the Hartford Economic Development Commission, ONE/CHANE, the Community
Economic Development Fund, and the city have met weekly for three
months to figure out how to revitalize Main Street from Terry Square
to the Windsor town line.
They've identified specific priorities:
streetscape improvements along the entire stretch, and "gateway" improvements
at I-91 at Jennings Road, I-91 at the Windsor line, and the intersection
of Main Street and Tower Avenue. The city will do its part to enforce
zoning and code violations, city officials said, and business owners
will be asked to invest in the city's future.
This is the same neighborhood that got attention late last month
when residents held a forum at the Union Baptist Church to vent.
They said they were tired of the vandalism, violence and noise associated
with the neighborhood's nightclubs.
The group, which calls itself the North Main Business Corridor Task
Force, began its efforts with a walking tour of the street, documenting
property-by-property problems, from bad signage to bad landscaping
to the number of cars parked on an open lot. The group and the city
are taking note of where changes need to be made, group members said.
"We have to change the personality of this entire area," said
Gary Albert, a principal of Toraal Development LLC, which is contracted
to work on the project. "When you think of Hartford and say
`the North End,' this big cloud comes over people. It's almost like
saying something terrible just happened. And goodness knows that
that's not the case."
The Thursday morning meetings have been at Uptown Flava, a restaurant
owned by Yvon Alexandre.
Alexandre is a member of the group and an enterprise zone board
member who wants to see action.
"We're pressing the city to do its job, but we understand when
they do their jobs, it's going to put pressure on the business owners," Alexandre
"Most of the people that are at the table know there's going
to be some discomfort in the short term," he said. "But
we're looking at the long term, the big picture, what could this
place be like if everybody picked up what they're supposed to clean
Helen Nixon, of the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Zone,
said this is a project her organization has been trying to get going
for a long time.
"This neighborhood has been overlooked for years," she
said, adding that what was often missing was a group of committee
people with expertise.
"This is the first time everyone's really coming together to
do this," she said. "Everybody's at the same table."
John Palmieri, the city's director
of development services, is excited about the group's potential.
The group is made up of "bona fide
stakeholders," Palmieri said, which is an advantage.
"It doesn't all reside with us because the business community
has to demonstrate some good faith in getting the businesses to reinvest, " he
said. "And the mayor has always made it clear that we're not
going to get it done if we do it alone."
His boss, Mayor Eddie A. Perez,
said the message to residents should be simple: "People have
to get together in order to make things happen. They can't do it
in isolation, and there can't be infighting."
To get the project on its feet,
the group received a $10,000 grant from CEDF, Johnson said, to
create an "implementation plan." That
money is being used to pay for Toraal's services.
"The goal is to put a new face to `Uptown,'" said
Frederick E. Smith, executive director of ONE/CHANE.
Smith said the neighborhood should be pedestrian friendly with good
sidewalks for the seniors who use them.
"The neighborhood that creates the most noise ... about the
issues impacting their community will be the community that is given
the resources," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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