The problem with the Capital City Economic Development Authority, the quasi-public agency created in 1998 to build the "Six Pillars of Progress" in Hartford and Rentschler Field in East Hartford, was that it was tied to the six projects — all, except for the housing component, in a defined geographical area. When the projects were finished, as they mostly are, the agency didn't have much to do. It wasn't in a position to keep the ball rolling.
The remaking of cities such as Hartford is not a matter of one or even six big-bang projects, useful as they are. It must be an ongoing process over decades. It's been imperative for several years that the authority known as CCEDA be reconstituted to help the city and region move into the future.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is poised to make this necessary change, and the legislature should support him. He has proposed replacing CCEDA with a new public authority with a slightly shorter name — the Capital Region Development Authority, or CRDA — but with the mandate to more broadly coordinate development in the Hartford region.
That's the idea. Hartford's resources are such that development must be a partnership among the city, state and private sector, all of which have an interest in the economic health of the capital city. CCEDA was such a partnership. Indeed, the agency got this and a number of other things right.
It performed very well. It managed construction of the Connecticut Convention Center, oversaw the successful move of Capital Community College into the former G. Fox Building, financed new housing, riverfront and parking initiatives, and helped develop the Connecticut Science Center and the stadium. Most if not all of these major infrastructure projects were completed on time and under budget.
The agency's board of directors drew from talent from the region, still something of a radical notion here. It had strong leaders who resisted political interference, not always easy with the rampant cronyism afoot in the Rowland years.
When the new agency was announced recently, attention turned immediately to the arenas and the convention center. There is work to do in this area, particularly with the XL Center, nee Hartford Civic Center. The facility is owned by the city and leased to the Connecticut Development Authority, but the agreement expires in August 2013.
Mr. Malloy said the city and state need to devise a new operating structure and a modernization plan. He also wants to better coordinate events and promotion among the buildings. Mr. Malloy all but ruled out construction of a new arena as too expensive, and he's right. The new agency should not spend the bulk of its time chasing a new arena or a major league team, fun though it would be. Better to make the city stronger first.
Where CCEDA worked mostly on big-ticket projects, CRDA should be ready to play small ball, at least smaller ball. For example, the city's innovative iQuilt plan to connect the arts and cultural institutions should encourage development around Bushnell Park. CRDA and the city might be able to get such projects as the redevelopment of the former YMCA building under way.
Also, if Coltsville wins National Park approval this year, as is fervently hoped, the new agency can help bring new development on or near the site. The trick is to quickly decide on which projects to do and in what order to do them.
CCEDA's ability to focus on six projects was a big advantage. It eliminated the need for years of planning meetings. The new agency must put itself in a similar position, as soon as possible. If it can do that, the new agency could be remembered as one of Mr. Malloy's signal achievements.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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