I had heard that the city hired someone for the vacant Planning and Development Commissioner post to replace Eileen Buckheit, who left in April, so I was curious to read about Meredith Allen in today’s Register. I have not met Ms. Allen, but from what I read, I hope she is the right person for the job. It is a key post in West Haven and one that can have a vital impact on the city.
On the plus side, Allen is not from West Haven. She brings a fresh set of eyes to the situation. And what a situation it is! The top three areas that need to be focused on are the center of town, the train station and Armstrong buildings, and West River.
The downtown area, Campbell Ave running between Elm and Captain Thomas, needs an infusion of storefront boutiques and shops that are a bit more upscale than what we have now. It’s a very large span of property so it will be a challenge to improve. There must be a model from other cities from which we could take a few pointers. I will admit our city’s demographics are going to be tough to overcome in attracting new business here.
Driving by the train station area this morning, I was happy to see some work being done there. I have been told that the station should be completed by next year. Lets just say I’m skeptical. Two things are bugging me about the train station, well three if we count the adjacent Armstrong compound. First, there’s not going to be a parking garage. That’s a problem. Lets look at Milford and learn from their mistake. Second, I happened to be at a City Council meeting where Train Station Committee Chairman Michael Mercuriano urged the City Council to become involved in the planning for the train station. That worries me. This is a golden opportunity to create jobs and bring revenue to the city. The Mayor should be working with the City Council on this project. It needs to be a collaborative effort, not some secret initiative, to be successful. The station is just a few blocks from downtown, and the Armstrong compound is just across the street, so it has the potential to really have a positive economic impact on our city. Which brings me to number three.
I have heard that the Armstrong buildings will be turned into apartments. The upsetting part for me is that supposedly the buildings will look pretty much the same as they do now – like East Berlin before the wall came down. U.G.L.Y. Aesthetics aside, the Armstrong property development plans should be dovetailing with the train station plans. I can only hope that Allen will have her hand in both projects and realizes the symbiotic possibilities.
The West River area is another undertaking that has huge potential. It sits right at a major entry point to West Haven. For decades that area has been an industrial eyesore. We need a smart plan that will create more jobs, bring in new revenue, and be a source of pride for the city.
Hopefully Allen can direct her variety of experience toward the city’s stagnating economic development, especially these three areas, and jump start it, sooner rather than later.
My fingers are crossed, and I know we all wish her much success!