OK, maybe it's premature to call the
effort to recast Front Street as "Willie Pep Boulevard"
a groundswell. But the idea of honoring the Connecticut original
and legendary boxing champion at Adriaen's Landing is getting momentum.
From Bristol to Florida, the e-mails,
letters and phone calls of support keep coming in about an idea
I passed along last week from 86-year-old Hartford native Angelo
Fuggetta. He suggested naming the retail and entertainment complex
planned for downtown in recognition of his colorful, gifted and
ailing pal. Pep, a two-time featherweight world champ in the 1940s
and 1950s, is considered one of the greatest prizefighters ever.And
he grew up on the original Front Street.
More significantly, House Speaker James
Amann said Friday he plans to include the proposal for a name change
- it's a state-funded project - as part of a major transportation
bill expected this session. So we've got one more reason to keep
our eye on what's shaping up to be a big year for transportation
at the Capitol.
"The reason is simple," Amann
said. "The guy is not only a Hartford legend, but a legend
in the boxing world. It would be a great honor for him and something
Hartford should do for the guy. He's one of the people that made
Hartford and made our state a great state."
If Pep Boulevard can get done without
a bill buster or filibuster, the potential of creating a unique
destination downtown is unlimited.
Link Pep Boulevard with ESPN's support
to play an undefined role downtown, then connect that to the new
Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame's search for a venue to showcase
the state's underplayed boxing history, and you've got something
to market. Seven world champions have called Connecticut home.
"It would be great branding for
Hartford," said Christian J. Renstrom, a boxing buff who is
vice president and general manager of Marketing Resource Consultants,
publishers of Hartford Magazine.
"This guy is universally recognized
as one of the five or 10 greatest ever in the history of his sport.
What a terrific attraction for people out of the area to see some
sort of memorial for this gentleman. He's arguably the greatest
sports franchise we've ever had. Willie Pep defined greatness. People
need to know that buses upon buses of Hartfordites would drive down
to Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium when he fought."
Like a lot of hometowns, Hartford has
a way of not always treasuring its sons and daughters. So when outsiders
turn up their nose at the city, we can forget to remind them that
it has been home to Mark Twain and Katharine Hepburn and Willie
Pep and a guy named Jackie McLean, recognized as the greatest living
alto saxophone player in the world.
Putting Pep's name on Front Street
is like putting the peppers on a sausage grinder. It'd spice up
an area that was once a busy Italian enclave, while reclaiming its
New city council president John Bazzano,
a South Hartford guy who remembers watching the old fighters with
his late dad, says he also is supportive of the idea. So is Michael
Kintner, the executive director of the Hartford Image Project, who
spends much of his work life trying to cast Hartford in the most
Willie Pep Boulevard does just that.
And it could be leveraged in all sorts
of productive ways for a city getting off the ropes.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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