Jul 8, 2014
05:00 PMConnecticut Today
Waterbury to Receive $19.2 Million From State for Revitalization
Waterbury is used to appearing in the news for the wrong reasons.
Last year a study of more than 10 million tweets that were sent out from 373 different cities concluded that the Brass City was one of the top five saddest cities in the country.
In a piece published this past Sunday in the Republican-American newspaper, Mayor Neil O’Leary acknowledged that his city ranked No. 1 on the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development’s list of the state’s 25 most distressed municipalities. In his piece, O’Leary also discussed how frustrating it was for him and others to have lived through the city’s “slow decline, watching industry close or leave, ineffectual efforts to pursue economic development, crumbling infrastructure, and the devastating impact of political scandal and fiscal insolvency.”
He went on to write that charting "a new direction and realizing a true rebirth of the city we love is the reason I sought to be mayor two and a half years ago. It remains the unrelenting focus of my administration every day.”
Read our recent story about another rebirth in Waterbury that O'Leary is involved with: The Resurrection of Holy Land USA
Also see these Waterbury stories:
Al Fresco or Inside, La Tavola a Delicious Waterbury Italian Charmer
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'Small, Sweet, and Italian,' Sweet Maria's New (Waterbury Bakery) Book of Mini Bites
Now it appears O'Leary's efforts might be paying dividends.
On Monday, Governor Dannel P. Malloy, (right) was joined by O’Leary (far right) and other state and local officials as he announced a $19.2 million package of state investment in six development and improvement projects in downtown Waterbury, as well as funding to build a new signal system for Metro-North’s Waterbury Branch.
The funding, known as Waterbury Next, will include up to $5 million to support the redevelopment of the historic Howland Hughes building located at 114-116 Bank Street, and up to $4 million for infrastructure improvements in downtown Waterbury, including new pavement, trees and lights, curb alignment and drainage, and upgrades to the West end of the city’s green, as well as funds to restore and repurpose several other downtown properties.
“Yesterday was a good day for the city of Waterbury,” O’Leary said Tuesday, the day after the funding package was announced. “We feel strongly that this initiative will give the people of Waterbury hope.”
O’Leary added that it will help attract young professionals, bringing “jobs and bodies into downtown Waterbury.”
Once the new signal system is completed at the Waterbury Branch of the Metro-North line, it is expected that additional peak, off peak, and reverse direction trains will be able to operate.
“With the help of private and public sector partners, we are identifying and investing in local capital projects in our cities and towns that lead to transit-oriented and economic development, improve the quality of life for residents and create jobs in these communities,” Governor Malloy said in a prepared statement. “That’s exactly what the projects contained in ‘Waterbury Next’ accomplish as we work towards revitalizing cities and downtown areas across Connecticut because we know that doing so will make us a stronger, more competitive state overall.”
O’Leary said the governor’s announcement was “really a culmination of two years of hard work,” as his office worked behind the scenes with the governor’s office, city planners, and Waterbury property owners to form the plans and partnerships necessary for Waterbury Next to be successful.
(The Waterbury Next initiative calls for up to $1 million to be given to Waterbury to acquire the long-underutilized Anamet site, left, located at 698 South Main Street. The site is a contaminated brownfield site, and the funds provided by the state will enable both a new mixed-use development as well as the creation of the Naugatuck Valley Greenway, which will be a significant new public open space amenity for downtown Waterbury.)
Despite many people’s perception, O’Leary, Waterbury’s former police chief, said downtown Waterbury is very safe. He said much of the perception of downtown Waterbury as unsafe has to do with its cosmetics. “If the downtown doesn’t look like it’s being taken care of, then it doesn’t look safe.”
O’Leary sees the Waterbury Next initiative as a major step towards Waterbury’s rebirth but only the first step. Now that the funding from the state has come through, he expects other property owners and Waterbury businesses to come onboard with the city’s revitalization process.
“I call it ‘Waterbury Next: Phase One’ because this is just the beginning,” he said.
A key private sector figure at Monday's announcement of Waterbury Next was Jim Smith, chairman and CEO of Webster Bank, which is based in Waterbury.
“The state, city, and private investments announced today are exciting news for Waterbury and bring closer the day when Waterbury will once again be growing and creating new jobs for its residents," Smith said in a statement Monday. "These investments will bolster economic development already underway in the city’s core and attract
additional private and public investment dollars. More market-rent housing downtown will generate greater activity and enhance the quality of life in the heart of the city.”
(Right, Jim Smith, chairman and CEO of Webster Bank, pointing to economic development progress in Waterbury to DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith.)
“Combining the initiatives announced today with the active Greenway project, the Tiger grant redevelopment initiative, Governor Malloy's steadfast support for and investment in brownfields remediation, Mayor O’Leary’s economic development initiatives, and soon-to-come I-84 improvements, Waterbury has the necessary investment capital and a viable economic blueprint to generate commercial development and activities that will improve the outlook for jobs, income, and the quality of life in the region," Smith said.