By TAYLOR HARTZ
Gathered in the gazebo at Clocktower Square on Thursday morning, town officials, chamber members, and business owners met to join Chamber of Commerce President Art Secondo on the sixth annual Plantsville Walk Thru.
“We do this to continue our initiative with Plantsville like we did with Southington,” said Secondo, who hosted Southington’s “Downtown Walk Thru” last month.
Joined by Town Councilor Dawn Miceli, Economic Development Coordinator Lou Perillo, Town Manager Garry Brumback, and Director of Public Works Keith Hayden, the walk was Secondo’s last official event as Chamber President.
The walk focused on what Secondo called a “potential renaissance” of the area, an ongoing initiative to revamp Plantsville.
“We value Plantsville as much as we do downtown Southington,” said Brumback, explaining that this year the town applied for state grants to fund a Plantsville renaissance, and put matching funds into the town’s Capital Improvement Plan.
The proposed renaissance would help Plantsville mirror improvements to downtown Southington, with a more walk-able area and improved access to restaurants and retail.
On the agenda were ideas for improved parking, street-side repairs, and scenic area improvements.
“The catalyst is a parking lot,” said Brumback, “and looking at sidewalks.”
The plans for the renaissance, broken up into phases, begin with the parking concern.
The first phase focuses on development of a municipal parking, and establishing rear entrances to businesses and restaurants.
While some street visible locations seemed fit for parking, Perillo explained that it has always been the goal of economic development to keep buildings on the streets and parking in their rear.
A municipal lot is the ideal plan, said Perillo, “you want something that causes mixed marketing opportunities.”
Perillo explained that municipal lots offer a higher utilization of space, with an estimated usage of 80 to 90 percent, rather than 40 percent usage for private, store-specific lots.
Though better parking and repaired sidewalks will improve accessibility to the overall area, some business owners are worrying that their customers won’t like the change.
James Potrepka, co-owner of the 70-year-old Plantsville Pharmacy since 1970, said taking parking away from West Street will hurt his business. Although he thinks handicapped parking in municipal lots will be beneficial, he is concerned that his customers might not be up for the walk.
Other store owners, including Bob Celentano, of Plantsville Station Antique think the changes will only help his business.
Celentano’s business has specialized in the sales of furniture, signs, locks, and dolls on West Street for 16 years, and he said the installation of new businesses and restaurants has already improved his somewhat “sporadic” business.
The antique specialist hopes improvements to the town and additional retail space will only help increase the foot traffic that brings his customers in.
Besides parking, town officials discussed other initiatives and ideas to help attract more residents to the Plantsville area. Secondo discussed the appearance around town, plantings, benches, and plans for public seating on Quinnipiac River.
Stopping to peer over a concrete bridge at the serene stretch of the Quinnipiac River, Brumback and Perillo explained a proposed $75,000 to $90,000 project to construct a half-moon shaped bridge overlooking the river. Although funding for the overlook is not part of a grant they just received for the town, Perillo said it is still in the long-term plan.
Secondo admired the idea as a way to utilize a natural resource in the town.
The walk continued along the linear trail, focusing on a new installation, a “kiosk” along the trail.
Jim Garstang, a member of the Chamber, pointed out the rustic looking wooden sign that will soon serve as a “You are here” style map for residents walking the trail. Garstang discussed how this would be beneficial for businesses owners to advertise to locals and Cheshire residents crossing into town.
“The idea is to have directions along the way to make people feel welcome” and “to highlight local businesses” said Garstang.
Along the rest of the walk, officials chatted with new and old business owners on the walk, and stopped in to visit others.
Sean Michanczyk, owner of Paris in Plantsville, said that after a few years of indoor and outdoor renovations to his business, the area has “no where to go but up,” and he is looking forward to the renaissance.
New business endeavors in the community expressed excitement about upcoming plans and changes as well.
On his first walk-through, David Nieves, head of sales and operations for Dean’s Stove and Spa, introduced the Hearthstone Pub’s new general manager, David Timek.
Timek, in just his third day at the Plantsville restaurant, said he was “looking forward to a new area and involvement in the chamber.”
Ralph Secondo, the future head chef at the soon-to-open Plantsville Pizza, and former chef at Popular restaurant, agreed, sharing his excitement to continue cooking in the Plantsville community.
Business owners, employees, and town officials alike agreed that although it may be a long process, but they look forward to seeing Plantsville continue to grow.