Now that the board members of the Capital City Economic Development Authority have picked a new executive director, they and the legislature ought to ask a more fundamental question: How can we justify the agency's continued existence?
The search for a successor to Annette Sanderson at the helm of CCEDA came to fruition Friday when James F. Abromaitis, who was ousted as state Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner in December, was appointed to the job.
The capital city authority was created in 1998 for the specific purpose of managing the state's investment in the so-called Six Pillars of Progress, a series of major development projects in Hartford, plus Rentschler Field stadium in East Hartford.
The agency performed exceptionally well. It managed construction of the Connecticut Convention Center, oversaw the move of Capital Community College into the former G. Fox Building, financed new housing, riverfront and parking initiatives and helped develop the Connecticut Science Center. So far these projects have been brought in on time and under budget.
However, CCEDA's role in most of them is over. The agency will continue as the owner, for the state, of the convention center, a small utility plant and about 3,000 parking spaces, which are managed by private contractors. There are other state agencies that hold property. If that is all the authority is there for, it appears to be redundant.
There is another option. The problem with the Six Pillars was that there were only six of them. In this regard, it harkens back to an earlier era when Hartford would build a big project - Constitution Plaza, the Civic Center - and assume the job was done. History should teach us that development should be more of a process than a project, something that continues indefinitely as planning inspires and funding allows.
If that view is adopted, it would make sense to have an agency that does what CCEDA did so well over the past nine years and monitor the state's involvement.
The legislature would have to assemble such an agency with care, so both the city and state were fairly represented and it was immune from political influence (as CCEDA largely was).
If the authority is recast in this role, there would be ample reason to keep it.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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