Vibrant Communities Initiative 2012
Trust Invests for Vibrant Communities
The Connecticut Trust’s Vibrant Communities Initiative (VCI), generously funded by the State Historic Preservation Office of the Department of Economic and Community Development, with funds from the Community Investment Act, helps Connecticut municipalities to plan and act on preserving historic resources, to enhance and protect cultural landscapes, to promote preservation for downtown revitalization, and to revitalize historic villages, neighborhoods, or downtowns. In May, the Trust awarded grants of $50,000 each to five towns or cities. In addition to the funding, Connecticut Circuit Rider Brad Schide will continue to work with each recipient to carry out the grant projects.
Bolton: preserving a rural community
Listed on the National Register, Bolton’s town center is a rural community with buildings from the 18th to the 20th centuries. The Town owns more than 130 acres of land in the center, including two town greens, the town hall, library, Resident State Trooper’s office (in an historic house), and the Bolton Heritage Farm, the site of an encampment on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route. This Route also passes through several nearby towns, and Bolton is looking for ways to work with the other towns to make the Route more of a destination. The grant will help Bolton look at ways to use its own properties more effectively to attract visitors and to form a regional working committee to promote the Route and other historic resources.
Bridgeport: downtown revitalization
The city of Bridgeport is seeking to create a preservation and development plan for historic resources located around McLevy Green, the commercial and civic hub of the Downtown South National Register district. The area already is seeing some redevelopment activity, and the City wants to reinforce those efforts by putting together financial resources and development strategies to ensure the best possible reuse of two City-owned buildings as well as other properties nearby. The City-owned buildings are the City Savings Bank building (1912) and McLevy Hall, the former city hall (1853, 1905). As part of VCI, the City will craft a request for proposals for redeveloping McLevy Hall that will encourage revitalizing the rest of the area as well. In addition, the consultants will help other property owners around the green with rehabilitation plans, work with businesses on their needs, and finalize an overall growth plan for the area.
Danbury: a castle in a park
Hearthstone Castle is located in Danbury’s Tarrywile Park. The National Register-listed castle, built atop Town Mountain between 1895 and 1899, has panoramic views, but it has been vacant for decades as the City has struggled to find a sustainable use for it, and funds for rehabilitation. The VCI grant will allow the City to draw up a comprehensive needs assessment for the building, following community sessions to seek input from the general public and interested groups on its potential use, either as a monument or other usable public structure in the park. Cost estimates to convert the structure will also be a component of the planning after a use is determined.
New Britain: stopping blight
Building on a city-wide historic preservation plan completed in 2009 with a Community Cultural Planning grant from the Trust (the precursor to VCI), the City of New Britain seeks to create a preservation plan for properties in the Walnut Hill National Register district that have fallen into disrepair and threaten to become blighting influences on neighboring properties. Working with professional consultants, the City will select key buildings for feasibility analysis and reuse or rehabilitation plans.
Wethersfield: commercial redevelopment
This grant focuses on three privately owned properties at the heart of Old Wethersfield, the town’s historic center. Two of the buildings, the former Masonic hall (1921) and the Simeon Belden house (1767), are vacant; the third, the Comstock-Ferre Seed Company (1833 and following), is partly vacant after a controversial redevelopment plan was abandoned. Because of their high visibility and importance to Wethersfield’s commercial district, a master plan for Old Wethersfield completed in 2008 called for the town to identify appropriate uses for the properties, as well as strategies for achieving them, including needed streetscape and traffic improvements. The VCI process will help to accomplish that.
This article originally appeared in Connecticut Preservation News, July/August 2012. For more information on the Trust’s Vibrant Communities Initiative, send an email to Brad Schide, firstname.lastname@example.org.