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
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,"
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,"
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
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."