Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles>

Albany Avenue Rising

COMMENTARY by Tom Condon
November 6, 2005

I recall a community meeting on Albany Avenue back in the 1990s, when the crime was so prevalent that two gang members rose to complain about it. Well, I was at another meeting on "the Ave" last week, and the talk was about parking, streetscape improvement and group health care. It could have been the Rocky Hill Chamber of Commerce.

I'm not suggesting that Mayor Eddie Perez don a flight suit and announce that the mission is accomplished in the neighborhoods along Albany Avenue. Parts of the area still suffer from society's inability to deal with the drug problem. Some buildings still need work. But comparing today with 1990 or even 2000 is to see measurable and remarkable progress. Despite the damnable drug activity, the good guys are getting the upper hand.

For the past two years, The Courant's editorial board has followed the efforts of the city and many nonprofit groups to revive the North Hartford thoroughfare.

Despite years of negative publicity, the neighborhood has a strong and growing portfolio of small and medium-sized businesses.

In the past four years, 40 new businesses have opened on the avenue. This welcome development has been greatly aided by a partnership between the University of Hartford and Connecticut Main Street, a program that revives commercial districts through economic development and historic preservation.

The university is creating a $25 million arts center in a former car dealership. Also, a marketing professor, Margery Steinberg, started a program called the Micro Business Incubator, which pairs business students with the owners of small businesses along Albany Avenue.

Now starting its fifth year, the program is a huge success. The students work with neighborhood entrepreneurs on loan applications, signs, permits, Web access and design, and many other things. The program started with 10 participating businesses and is up to 35, representing enough workers to make group health care a viable possibility.

The incubator program - run by a very capable young MBA named Rob Golden - is part of the Upper Albany Main Street program, and it was a Main Street meeting that I attended last week.

The people working on this have made steady, incremental progress. Main Street and other groups started with small, achievable projects, such as banners and holiday lights. Then they helped business owners find and renovate buildings. Main Street director Marilyn Risi ticked off the projects now underway:

A former gas station site at Woodland and Albany is being developed into a restaurant-retail area.

The YMCA is building a facility on the avenue.

The state is about to redesign the avenue itself, to calm traffic and provide more parking.

The historic Northwest School annex will become an African-American cultural center named after former University of Hartford Professor John E. Rogers.

The Christian Activities Council recently completed building and renovating beautiful homes on Deerfield Avenue.

Risi and others say the community policing effort has helped law enforcement along the avenue, and building code enforcement has improved. Also, the street looks better. Albany Avenue for the past couple of decades has been ankle-deep in litter. But thanks to an aggressive anti-litter campaign and a new riding street vacuum (Mac the Vac), the street is 96 percent cleaner. If you don't think this is important, I'd hate to visit your house.

Obviously, there is still work to do. What I'd love to see in the next five years is development at the ends of the avenue. On the western end, the aging Westbrook Village housing project should be turned into a university-oriented, mixed-use village, which would give the school a frontage on the avenue and make it more of a neighborhood presence.

At the east end, the city should move full speed ahead with plans to expand downtown across the highway, revamp the Victorian buildings there and create a new "gateway" to North Hartford. This isn't a pipe dream; restoration work is beginning on six abandoned Victorian homes on Belden Street, between Albany and Main, and a developer has just been named for a city-owned parcel nearby.

If the next five years go as well as the last five have, this will be quite a story.

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 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?