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Adriaen's Neighbors: Watchful As Ever

Commentary by Helen Ubiñas
June 2, 2005

After an hour or so of discussing today's much anticipated opening of the Connecticut Convention Center, we finally got to the important stuff: What are you going to wear? I asked Bernadine Silvers. The ladies gathered on her patio were interested, too. She was invited to represent the whole neighborhood, after all, and she wouldn't miss it.

"Not so much because they asked me," she said. "But because then, I would have earned the right to continue to keep an eye on how the convention center impacts the neighborhood."

Fact is, she and many others around the Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood earned that right a long time ago - back in 1971, when they moved into the development and swore that they would not suffer the same fate as the residents who were displaced from Windsor Street when that area was redeveloped. A powerful neighborhood group, and a strategic plan, followed.

And then again in the '80s when they sent developer Anthony Cutaia packing. He had a grand plan to raze the Sheldon Oak complex and replace it with yuppie housing.

"I didn't know we were in a war," Cutaia told Silvers the morning after the project died.


The folks from Adriaen's Landing approached the neighborhood right away, so there was no need to declare war. But when there was something they weren't happy with, you can bet they weren't shy about speaking up.

When there was talk of initially anchoring the project with a stadium rather than the convention center, the silver-tongued Silvers promptly informed then-Gov. John G. Rowland that he should relocate the stadium into his mother's living room.

When there was a plan to limit road improvements to the area right around the center, neighbors once again made their dissatisfaction known.

And now they're hoping to get their new neighbors to help finance the iron fence they need for the complex.

Why not? It's the least they can do.

Not much gets past these folks.

"Is that tree bothering you?" Silvers yelled over to a boy who had been poking at it with a stick. "Then don't bother it." He quickly put the stick down.

"Pick up that piece of paper," Margaret Hampton told another boy. "You wouldn't do that at your house, so why do it here?"

In a city where too often buildings and residents look equally defeated, the neighbors here hold tight to their home, an oasis of sorts where kids freely ride their bikes around blooming azaleas, families raise children who grow up to be schoolteachers and cops. And residents are as ready to battle people who aren't familiar with the neighborhood standards - there's a whole list of them - as they are developers who think they can play with the neighborhood's future.

Even with the convention center finally opening, there are doubts. So what, this is supposed to save the city? That thing they're building there doesn't affect me at all! Even Tony Colon, who named his package store on Charter Oak Avenue after Adriaen's Landing before the first crane crossed the sky, is less than impressed.

By this point, the coming of the convention center should have brought some benefit to the neighborhood, said Colon, who has since sold the package store but still owns an adjacent bodega.

"I'm still waiting for the love," he said.

But most everyone I talked to still had high hopes for what the convention center could do for the city.

"You always have to hope for the best," said Billy Davis, who was visiting from the other side of town.

In fact, Raymond Rodriguez looks forward to spending his money at the convention center.

"I rather spend it here than somewhere else," he said. "I rather give back to my own city."

Gladys Santiago spent many days with her neighbors watching the convention center's progress, wondering what the cranes that moved around like prehistoric dinosaurs would eventually build.

They all agreed, she said. "It's beautiful."

The only thing that might make it more beautiful, she added, a sly grin flashing across her face, is if her son Santos Roldos, who applied for a job that morning, gets hired.

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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