By TAYLOR HARTZ
It has become an annual tradition for town officials to gather for a walk through downtown, a hands-on way to see what progress has been made, and what improvements are still needed.
Sponsored by the Central Business Alliance, a group within the Chamber of Commerce that oversees the downtown areas of Southington and Plantsville, the walk provides an opportunity for officials to check in with local business owners and get a sense of downtown development.
Chamber of Commerce president Art Secondo, who began the tradition several years ago, said “the annual walk has been a good project.”
Joined by residents, town officials, and chamber representatives on June 4, Secondo led the group on an hour-long tour.
Town Councilor Dawn Miceli said that prior to this year’s walk, she asked Town Manager Gary Brumback and Town Engineer Keith Hayden to compile responses for the list of requests and plans made during last year’s walk.
Brumback, Hayden and Southington Economic Developer Lou Perillo were all present to provide information on project costs, repair plans, and updates on current projects.
As the group gathered outside Liberty Bank, one of the first concerns discussed was traffic on High Street – an issue that was discussed on last year’s tour.
Addressing town officials and executive director of the YMCA John Myers, resident Arthur Cyr asked if there had been any progress made on plans to make an extra turning lane on the street.
Brumback explained that the issue had to be taken off the agenda because it was cost prohibitive.
“There are other places where we can actually make an impact, and it would a much better use of our tax dollars,” said Brumback.
The group continued with a list of 23 points of interest to discuss along the walk—new items, ongoing maintenance, completed projects, and future repairs.
They discussed plans to repair a trench that runs across the cross walk at Center Place, the broken curb across from Paul Gregory’s Bistro, and a parking sign for an expanding lot. As they walked the streets, they pointed out both flaws and improvements.
“Pull that weed!” shouted Councilor Miceli just a few minutes into the tour, and Secondo bent over to pluck the small eye-sore from a sidewalk grate, continuing their initiative to beautify the streets.
While they pulled a few more weeds and criticized cracked curbs along the way, the group also noted newly painted lampposts and better landscaping along the downtown streets.
“If we’re going to complain about things, let’s also make sure we realize what we’ve done,” said Miceli as she pointed out an updated bench on Main Street.
Several items on their list were marked as completed already, including repairs to a hazardous sidewalk outside the Bank of America, fixing the sidewalk that runs along the side of the Barnes Museum, and replacing missing valve covers in front of the Sons of Italy.
For the items not yet completed, officials discussed plans for expanding a municipal parking lot and talked about ideas for condo construction as they observed the construction site in Factory Square, a project that has been seven years in the making.
The town officials consulted Southington Police Officer Tom Gallo on safety concerns with street lighting, while residents and business owners were considered for their input on the area’s ambiance. They discussed the pros and cons of certain sidewalk repairs, stopped to admire storefronts of a few new businesses, and noted the importance of balancing retail and dining when planning for new merchants.
The group stopped to speak with several business owners, waving to residents opening the doors to their shops, discussing street clean ups outside The Fire Place restaurant, and stopping in to a new shop, Bangle, to meet with owner Christine Romano.
John Pucci, ten-year owner of The Fire Place wood fired pizza, said the attention town officials pay to downtown businesses has been paying off. “As a business owner I can only take care of the inside,” said Pucci, “I have got to rely on others to take care of the outside.”
Pucci said he had mentioned over-grown trees that had begun to encroach on his awning last year. As he setup his restaurant’s outdoor seating the morning of the walk through, maintenance crews were already out front trimming the trees. “They seem to follow through,” said Pucci.
As the walk wrapped up and check marks were scattered throughout the officials’ lists, they pointed out the progress they had seen with businesses new and old, and the potential to fill the few vacancies downtown. They stopped to look in on new businesses like Nonna Artemisia’s Pizzeria and Vintage from the Heart, asked about closed businesses like Frostee Froyo, and discussed their favorite menu items at the new Thai and sushi restaurant, Wild Orchid.
By the end, there were very few plans left incomplete. “Last year I had a list,” said Miceli, “this year I just have a few notes” she said.