City residents attending Tuesday night’s meeting of the Clay Arsenal Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) were delighted to hear about plans to renovate an old abandoned gym off Main Street – but they were less enthusiastic about plans to put the Golden Arches in the shadow of the Keney Clock Tower.
Ron Shapiro of NES Group Investments, which controls the site of the former Firestone Tire Shop at the corner of Main and Ely Streets, discussed his company’s plans to put in a McDonald’s Restaurant at the strategic location.
Shapiro’s company purchased the Firestone property in 2003. A few years later, at the request of the Clay Arsenal NRZ, they tore down the building.
Shapiro spoke at length about the benefits a McDonald’s would bring to the neighborhood and the city at large in terms of jobs and tax revenue. He also said that they would insist that the construction of the proposed restaurant be done by local contractors.
But when Clay Arsenal NRZ Chairperson Bea Powell ask how many of those who in attendance were in favor of the McDonald’s, no hands were raised.
Some residents said they were concerned about the dubious dietary value of the food at McDonald’s, especially since it would be located a block away from Capital Prep School.
State Representative Marie Kirkley-Bey then stood up and pointed out that no suitable buyer had come forward to buy the property for eight years.
Shapiro agreed, saying, “The only other viable option is a carwash, and I’ve been putting them off for two years...and they don’t need a variance.” He added that the McDonald’s would require a variance from the city as it would need to make a portion of Ely Street two-way in order to accommodate a drive-through.
Before Shapiro’s presentation at Tuesday night’s meeting, Emily Wolfe from Sheldon Oak Central, spoke about the status of an old gym behind the SANA Apartments, which her organization manages.
The City of Hartford is currently taking proposals on the building. Wolfe said Sheldon Oak Central has submitted a proposal to renovate the gym. She added that the building has been boarded up for years and is now starting to suffer structural damage due to a leaking roof.
Kirkley-Bey said she has secured $600,000 in funding to renovate the gym and has also put in an additional request for $1 million in bonding. She added that she feels that when the facility is renovated, it should be named after the late Ella Cromwell.
Johnny “Coach” Callas then spoke to the group, saying he hopes to move his youth boxing program into the new gym if and when it’s renovated.
Callas is director of the Charter Oak Boxing Academy. The academy started in the old Charter Oak Terrace public housing complex. When the complex was torn down, Callas said he had to move his organization to Middletown and is thrilled about the chance to come back to Hartford. “The only problem with Middletown is that it isn’t Hartford,” said Callas.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Pedro Segarra gave the NRZ an update on the city’s financial situation and the various initiative he is instituting.
Following the Mayor’s speech, Ed French asked the mayor about the City’s plans for the abandoned building at 272 Garden Street. French, who has lived on Brook Street for over 70 years, said he had a letter signed by residents who live near the building asking for it to be torn down.
Segarra said, “My understanding is that there isn’t a consensus yet on the future of that building.”
French responded, “Everyone one who lives near that building signed this letter to tear it down. What more consensus do you need?”
Segarra said he would look into the matter. “If I find there truly is a consensus, I’ll sign off on demolishing it next week.”