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On Your Left ... The Landfill

January 15, 2006
Commentary By Tom Condon

I was talking with Steve Gorss, the longtime business leader in Hartford's North Meadows, about how things were going in his part of town.

"Pretty good, but they'd be going an awful lot better if it weren't for the dump."

Of course. Businesses in the Meadows live in the shadow of Trash Mountain, Seagull Hill, Unsightly Knoll or whatever else frustration will brand the Hartford landfill next to I-91. The dump is a well-known nuisance for existing businesses. Gorss' point was that it deters new businesses from coming to Hartford.

I-91 is a gateway, an important one because many visiting business people arrive at Bradley International Airport and take the highway to the capital city. There are such things as first impressions, and an unsightly dump cannot possibly be a good one. People draw conclusions.

The dump may be the worst of them, but almost all of the gateways to Hartford leave something to be desired. It really is an impediment to economic development.

"The gateways don't help us to sell the city," said Jim Abromaitis, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, who's been trying to lure businesses to Hartford since 1997. Business owners mention the dump. When you have to overcome a bad first impression, you are fighting uphill.

In addition to trying to attract much-needed jobs, Hartford is now trying to attract convention business. City and state officials have to be thinking all the time about ways to sell the city. Part of that thinking should include improving the gateways.

There is some promising news.

Of the highway entrances to the city, the southern entry on I-91 will probably improve the fastest. Exterior work is scheduled to begin soon on the Coltsville project, which will make the old factory buildings look like the national treasures they are. For decades, the East Armory, the one closest to the highway, has looked like a worn old Victorian armoire from your grandmother's house that was left sitting by the curb. But with the restoration of the onion dome, to be followed by a new roof and windows and a spruced-up exterior, the effect should be impressive.

I also think the Marriott Hotel has improved the skyline from the south, though the convention center is kind of a blank wall from the highway.

The entry from the east on I-84 isn't too bad, if you can ignore that massive highway interchange in East Hartford, a rats' nest of roads that is as big as downtown East Hartford. But past that, the Hartford skyline, underscored by the Riverfront Recapture improvements along the Connecticut River, make a good impression, one that should be enhanced by the new science center.

Coming from the west on I-84, the first impression, the outline of Trinity College, is very strong. But coming out of the curve, one does get a glimpse of the scrap metal yard north of the highway. This is more of a visual nuisance for westbound drivers.

Abromaitis and his staff have begun thinking about a long-term plan to make the area more visually appealing. This will take years, and must be done carefully so that viable businesses remain viable, but it's the right idea.

In addition to the highways themselves, attention should be paid to exit ramps. The building with the hole in it next to the Asylum Avenue exit off I-84 sends an awful message, and cannot be rebuilt quickly enough. If city officials were thinking about gateways, maybe they would not so easily have allowed the demolition of the former Carmichaels building at Airport Road and Wethersfield Avenue, or the soon-to-be-demolished building at 990 Wethersfield Ave.

The idea is to keep the attractive historic buildings so as not to look like everyplace else.

Many people use city streets to enter Hartford. The most attractive of these is probably Maple Avenue, with Cedar Hill Cemetery on one side and Goodwin Park on the other. Some of the other entrances need attention.

Windsor Street, for example, is desolate. If you were thinking about attractive gateways, would you put more low-income housing on North Main Street, as is being discussed? Wouldn't you get rid of the former H.B. Davis building, now a derelict hulk off North Main Street, visible from I-84?

An attractive replacement for the aging and undistinguished Westbrook Village housing project would greatly enhance the Albany Avenue entrance.

For all of this, the landfill is still the biggest highway eyesore. It is scheduled to close sometime in 2008. Then there'll be a "post-closure" plan to do something, possibly turn it into a park with hiking and birding trails, something that's been done with other landfills. We can only hope it will look better than it does now.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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