September 2 - 9, 1998

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Application for Empowerment Zone Rolls Forward Despite Snags

by Andy Hart

A coalition of neighborhood groups and city organizations may be at odds with Hartford City Council over which body has the power to select the firm or firms who will assist in writing the city's application to be designated as a Federal "Empowerment Zone." The application is due on October 9.

As an Empowerment Zone, Hartford would receive $130-$230 million in tax-exempt bond authority, $100 million in Social Service Block Grant funds over the next ten years and $100,000 in planning funds. The program is operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

The coalition of neighborhood groups, which was formed specifically to pursue the Empowerment Zone, is an outgrowth of Hartford 2000, which is made up of representatives from the city's Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZs).

At a meeting last week, coalition members agreed to interview several consulting firms on Friday and present their findings at a meeting on Monday, August 31.

At Monday's meeting, which was attended by over 50 people, the coalition's Bernadine Silvers announced that the interview committee had selected Urban Strategies of Toronto, Canada as lead consultant and the Connecticut Institute of Municipal Studies (CIMS) of Hartford as secondary consultant. CIMS is headed up by former Hartford Deputy Mayor Nick Carbone.

However, Silvers also said that she had received a call from Mayor Mike Peters on Monday informing her that some City Council members were concerned about being left out of the selection process. Silvers added that the Mayor also told her that some Council members had been working with CIMS and wanted to make sure it was a part of the application process.

Silvers and other coalition members expressed anger and confusion over Council's concerns about being left out of the process. "This [the coalition's selection process] was a legitimate process," said Silvers, "If Council's angry that they haven't been included, that's not our problem."

Council was informed about Friday's consultant interviews on Thursday in a memo from Assistant City Manager Linda Bayer. Councilman Mike McGarry said the memo left insufficient time for council members to rearrange their schedules and attend the interviews.

But Silvers said such difficulties shouldn't hold up the application process, especially since the deadline is only six weeks away. "I'm tired of the community getting beat up because of a lack of communication or politics as usual that goes on in this city."

McGarry said he is not opposed to the Empowerment Zone but did add that he and other Council members do have serious questions about not only who should select the consultant or consultants to write the application but also who would have the ultimate control over how the zone is formed and run.

"This thing [the Empowerment Zone] could have a major effect on the city's development for the next ten years. The question is: who is really representative of the people, the elected officials or a group of activists who happened to be available at the time," McGarry said.

He also said that many Council members and other city leaders are upset about the increasing amount of control that is being given to boards of appointees rather than elected officials. "Some people are very concerned that the obligations and rights of Hartford voters are being chipped away...first the School Board of Trustees, then the NRZs, the [Capital City] Economic Development Authority and now this," he said.

Despite the disagreement over who should select the consultants, Silvers said Urban Strategies has expressed a willingness to work with CIMS and Carbone, who attended Monday's meeting, said CIMS is also willing to work together, pending an agreement on the actual division of responsibilities.

In other business at Monday's meeting, Tom Phillips, Development Policy and Program Administrator for the City of Hartford, said the coalition reached a tentative agreement on the core zones of the overall Empowerment Zone. Under Federal regulations, the core zone can consist of up to three non-contiguous areas where the poverty rate for the census tracts included is at least 25 percent for 90 percent of the area and at least 20 percent for the remaining 10 percent of the area (based on 1990 census figures). The total population of these areas cannot exceed 50,000. Phillips said, right now, Hartford would have two zones, one containing most of the Northeast section of the city and parts of the Upper Albany and Clay Hill neighborhoods and the other taking in most of the Frog Hollow, South Green and Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhoods.

The Empowerment Zone can also contain up to 2,000 acres of "Developable Sites" which would basically be used to provide employment and other services for the people in the core zone. Up to three Developable Zones could be included in the plan. They would be free from poverty level limitations and would not even have to be in the city. However, Phillips said he is still waiting to hear from HUD on the amount of residential units that can be included in the Developable Zone. Right now, he said the coalition is looking at a number of areas, such as the industrial corridor that runs alongside New Park Avenue, a large piece that would run from the old Thomas Cadillac property on Albany Avenue and Capital Community Technical College in the west all the way down through downtown and out to the site proposed for Adriaen's Landing and also a site at Bradley International Airport. Phillips said the Bradley site is under consideration because utilizing an international airport would improve Hartford's chances for getting the Empowerment Zone designation.

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