March 25, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
The Greater Hartford
Arts Council has decided to cancel the Taste of Hartford for
2005, the first step in a citywide effort to reinvent outdoor
programming at Constitution Plaza, officials said Thursday.
"It was time for us to make a change, all of us," said
Kenneth R. Kahn, the council's executive director. The council
licenses the name "Taste of Hartford" to a private
event manager and has decided not to renew the contract. "This
isn't an unhappy thing. It's a tremendous relief to be able to
turn the page."
The next page of Hartford
development should inspire new thought about downtown artistic
and cultural events, he said. "We
really have a moment here with something important - new energy,
new people, new things, new buildings, new venues," Kahn
said. "So the context has changed and the opportunities
have changed. And we see this as an opportunity."
But Dan Karp sees it as a disappointment.
"I think it's very unfortunate that it's being canceled," said
Karp, the president of Daniels Production Inc. of West Hartford,
the event manager who has run Taste of Hartford for at least
the past decade. "It's a Hartford tradition, it's very well-liked
and popular by all of the people who attend it, and it's been
a highlight as far as Hartford events go."
"The public obviously likes it," he
Though it did draw thousands of people downtown, the event no
longer meshed with what downtown backers want Constitution Plaza
to be, they said.
The arts council had become dissatisfied with the quality of
the event, from the food to the entertainment to the commercialism.
"It was, for the most part, very ordinary," Kahn said. "It
became a food vending activity. It no longer was a major activity
for the restaurants, and it really had nothing indigenous."
In addition, property owners were repeatedly upset at how vendors
disposed of their garbage, he said.
"And the other thing is, the style of it really failed," Kahn
said, saying that it was growing away from the mission that the
arts council had set for it. "It had so much criticism from
people who had reminisced about the old `Taste.'"
Now that the event is gone, the time has come to rethink the
plaza's future, Kahn said.
At a meeting Tuesday in the
board room at The Phoenix Companies Inc., Kahn and Joseph R.
Marfuggi, president of Riverfront Recapture, spoke to a group
of gathered "stakeholders" - representatives
from Phoenix, St. Paul Travelers, the city, state, the MetroHartford
Alliance, the Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration,
the convention center, and more.
Marfuggi told the others that they have an opportunity to rethink
how Constitution Plaza and its surrounding areas, are used. Soon,
there will be one continuous space - from the river, to Constitution
Plaza, to Adriaen's Landing, he told them.
"It's going to look like one continuous space to visitors,
but it's a blend of public property and private property," Marfuggi
said. "What we're trying to do is build a consensus as to,
`What do the stakeholders want to see in their neighborhood?'"
By the meeting's end, the group set up a steering committee
with the hope of reintroducing programming by the summer of 2006,
Marfuggi said. The committee's job is simple: to determine the
type and frequency of programming and to figure out how to best
coordinate and pay for it, Marfuggi said.
"All of a sudden we're looking at a big new influx of people,
into an area that's been relatively quiet in terms of pedestrian
traffic," he said, referring to the expectation of visitors
to Adriaen's Landing and to the city. "That's going to change
in a huge way and we want to be ready for it."
The original idea came to Marfuggi from the plaza's owners,
Capital Properties, he said. Now, it's up to this new steering
committee to take the idea and develop it, Kahn said.
"We want to re-conceptualize the whole way we use it," Kahn
said of Constitution Plaza. "We needed a virtual blank slate.
To clear the decks, literally, and say, `Where do we go?'"
As for the Taste of Hartford,
it may go elsewhere. Karp said he is considering bringing a
similar event with a similar name to East Hartford, although
plans are not finalized "because
the Taste of Hartford in its current form works very well."
But even though it may work well, it may not fit the new downtown
mold, Kahn and others said.
Beth Shluger started the Taste of Hartford event in 1983 with
the intent of making it a place for local restaurants to showcase
"It was never sold to the restaurants as a quick way to
make a lot of money," she said. She remembers when there
was a wine garden and when one vendor served chilled asparagus
with orange hollandaise. Quality food, she said.
"But it changed through the years from what its original
intent was," Shluger said. "As its founder, I would
be very pleased if it took a hiatus and was recreated as something
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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