August 19 - 26, 1998

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City Legislators Voice Concern Over Downtown Revitalization Panel

By Andy Hart

Will Hartford residents and their elected representatives be left without a voice in the city's ongoing development boom? That was one of the concerns expressed by five members of the city's state legislative delegation during a press conference on Monday at the Legislative Office Building.

The press conference was prompted by the recent naming of seven people to serve on the new Capital City Econom- ic Development Authority (CCEDA), which will oversee the use of up $300 million earmarked by the state for the redevelopment of downtown Hartford. The selections were made by Governor John Rowland and a group of legislative leaders.

Only one of the CCEDA's seven members, Miguel Matos, is a Hartford resident.

That doesn't sit too well with State Senator Eric Coleman (D-1st), who spoke at the press conference along with State Senator John Fonfara (D-2nd), State Representatives Ken Green (D-1st), Minnie Gonzalez (D-3rd) and Evelyn Mantilla (D-4th) and representatives from community groups including Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), the Asylum Hill Organizing Project (AHOP) and One-Chane.

Coleman said there must be more citizen participation in the redevelopment process and suggested that most - if not all - members of the CCEDA should be Hartford residents. Mantilla suggested creating an advisory board for the CCEDA made up of representatives from various community groups. Fonfara said that if such a group is created it should have regular, formalized channels of communication with the CCEDA rather than on a sporadic, ad hoc basis.

The legislators said they are also concerned about an overall trend toward statewide boards taking over traditionally local functions, such as the Board of Trustees that currently oversees the Hartford school system. "The implication is that the residents of Hartford are incapable of governing themselves," said Coleman.

Finally, the legislators said they are concerned that the state's plan focuses too much on downtown and not enough on Hartford's neighborhoods. "Hartford is much more than downtown...The only thing for outside of downtown is for demolition [of vacant buildings] and I thinks that speaks volumes," said Fonfara. Mantilla agreed, saying, "I believe in the need for downtown development, but people in the neighborhoods must also be part of the process."

Raising objections to the CCEDA places the legislators in an awkward position since all five voted for the legislation that created the panel. Fonfara said that the exact terms of the legislation was not made available to him and the others until the day it was voted on. "There just wasn't a lot of time to react to it and make revisions," he said.

Arthur Anderson, who has been named Chairman of the CCEDA, said there seems to be a misunderstanding about what the group was created to do. "Some people have expectations that are far greater than what the law allows us [the CCEDA] to do," he said.

By law, Anderson said, the CCEDA can only oversee what Rowland has termed the "Six Pillars of Progress" for the rejuvenation of downtown Hartford. These are: renovation of the Civic Center, development of the riverfront, creation of a downtown higher education center, construction of a convention center, creation of more parking and housing and demolition of vacant buildings. This activity would take place downtown and in parts of the neighborhoods to the south.

"Obviously just doing these six things is not enough to rejuvenate the entire city," Anderson said. He added that the CCEDA would support any efforts to improve the city's neighborhoods "to the extent that our support is relevant."

Mayor Mike Peters also said that the CCEDA is not "the end all or save all for the entire city" and added that the state and city have already allocated millions of dollars for Hartford neighborhoods. Peters also said that concerns about the CCEDA are premature. "I think we ought to give them a chance before people start shooting from the hip...people should be concerned about what's best for Hartford and not who's on the panel."

Anderson said he would be happy to work with an advisory group representing Hartford's neighborhoods but added that the exact composition of such a group should be left up to city residents themselves. "Whatever the most effective means of communication [between the CCEDA and the neighborhoods] is the one we'll use."

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