By ELLEN ZOPPO-SASSU
While the pandemic dominated 2020, the city had many success stories. Community partners like the CERT team, Bristol Hospital, Community Health Center, the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Community Foundation, the Clinton S. Roberts Foundation, non-profits, churches and individuals stepped up to provide a critical safety net to many. As we shift from testing to vaccinations, we will continue to rely upon these partners to develop a standard of community resiliency.
In addition to the stellar All Heart response, Bristol saw several projects get off the ground and others are in the planning or permitting stage. These include Parcel 10 on Main Street which will break ground this spring, the Kind Care assisted living building project on the corner of Route 6 and North Main Street, the expansion of the Double Tree Hotel and the residential apartment complex built by Carrier on Main Street. In addition, demand has been growing for lots in the Southeast Industrial Park. There are letters of intent or contracts in place for multiple lots there, and there is active discussion on others. The city is also marketing the 894 Middle St. 17 acre parcel, and will have exciting news about downtown in the next few weeks.
The hot real estate market has improved housing values and conveyance taxes collected are more than we anticipated. Recently, several large apartment complexes changed hands for more than $20 million. These developments and others will contribute to a significant increase to the Grand List.
In the interest of saving money over the long-term, the Energy Commission is working on several projects to reduce Bristol’s energy consumption and carbon footprint, as well as researching how Bristol would benefit from Microgrid technology. Achieving Silver Certification through the Sustainable CT program also means the city gets an edge on certain state grant applications.
Our greatest asset continues to be our people. In the last three years, the city has added significant diversity to its volunteer boards and commissions, growing the number of people of color and different faiths who are now making policy decisions from four in 2017 to more than 35 today. The police and fire departments are also collaborating to raise awareness of its future openings to attract a more diverse applicant pool and the Parks, Recreation, Youth & Community Services Department, as well as the Board of Education have diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives happening.
Over the next year or so, certain areas will see a transformation. There will be changes in downtown, in the West End when the Rt. 72 & Rt. 69 intersection alignment kicks off and some plans are percolating in Forestville.
The Parks Commission is reviewing its master plan documents. From the anticipated opening of the new Page Park Pool in June, to the excitement over pickle ball, city parks play a vital role in community health. Page will see many exciting upgrades over the next few years including renovations to the pavilion to allow rentals, improved safety and sidewalks and more parking. Across town, the Rockwell Park mountain bike trails will soon be complemented by a state-of-the-art pump park, and Muzzy Field also received an update. We are cautiously optimistic the Bristol Blues will have a baseball season and will be incorporating appropriate social distancing measures for all to enjoy a night out at the ballpark.
The Memorial Boulevard will celebrate its 100th anniversary this fall with several outdoor activities being planned along with a striking new bridge entrance on the east side. One year later, the Memorial Boulevard Intradistrict Magnet School will open in the fall of 2022, 100 years after the first classes entered its hallways.
While the magnet school has first priority for the use of the Rockwell Theater, it is also anticipated the theater will be a catalyst for downtown and a wonderful backdrop for arts and culture events. In order to ensure the lights are on from the first available date, the city and BOE are in the planning stages of creating a position to begin the planning tasks of booking shows, fundraising, creating partnerships with other venues, marketing and outreach, and many other tasks that will ensure the significant investment made by the city will pay dividends sooner rather than later.
Economic development, food insecurity, the digital divide and broadband issues, the opioid public health crisis, safe streets and strong neighborhoods, as well as housing issues all remain at the forefront of our focus for 2021. On behalf of the City Council, we invite you to join us to be a part of all the exciting developments happening citywide by joining one of the city committees so we may continue to ensure that all voices and opinions are heard.
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is the mayor of Bristol.