The following is the main portion of a speech Mayor Pedro Segarra delivered at the MetroHartford Alliance’s Rising Star Breakfast Remarks on Tuesday, January 8.
Our City and State has been through lot recently. We’re still recovering and it will be a long time before we are better. But have no doubt that we will be stronger for it.
Over the past several years have made few promises from this stage and want to provide you with an update.
I’ve often quoted Mark Twain and will quote him again when he said, “Truth is the most valuable thing we have.”
My remarks today will be filled with truth, challenges and hopefully a bit of inspiration. But first an update:
1. Your Capital City is safer than it has been in recent history. As you know, in 2011, along with the Police Chief Rovella, we established the Shooting Task Force, which has become national model and is being duplicated in other cities across Connecticut. By the Anniversary in August, homicides were down 40% and I’m proud to say that for the 2012 calendar year, homicides were down about 20%. Again, repeat: our city is safer now than it has been in the last 30 years. Period. Tomorrow morning we’ll officially open the new Public Safety Complex, a project that geographically centralizes public safety operations and will be the catalyst for the development of North Downtown. This is the first time in the history of our City that the Police, Fire and Emergency Services are located under one roof.
2. And now we have modern three-story facility dedicated to the safety of residents, businesses and visitors.
3. As a victim of gun violence, tackling violent crimes is personal for me, but it also became an issue of growth and economics. After many, many conversations with economists from across the country, every single one of them said “you cannot have economic growth in a city perceived as unsafe.” We’re fighting – and will continue to fight that perception everyday with the truth and numbers.
4. We spent more than a year looking for a top-shelf Development Director who was pro-business and understood our challenges and strengths. We hired one in April last year and Thom Deller has hit the ground running. During his short tenure, Hartford has received a $1 million dollar Innovation Hub Grant (an award given to only 3 cities in the country) to spur job creation and support entrepreneurism and innovation. The first phase of comprehensive permitting audit aimed at simplifying and expediting the permitting process has been finished, and The Intermodal Triangle Project – a $21MM transportation project anchored by the TIGER grant we received last year – will break ground in early 2014. The Intermodal Triangle is a transportation investment to help improve transit, pedestrian and biking infrastructure in Downtown Hartford and will better connect Bushnell Park to Main Street.
5. In 2012, the Urban Land Institute selected me, along with three other mayors in the country as Daniel Rose Fellow. This honor represents an acknowledgement by a prestigious and highly regarded planning organization focused on innovative urban land use. The fellowship involves a year-long program where we focus on learning and sharing best practices and developing strategies using placemaking and public investment to attract private investment to further economic growth.
6. The team includes Thom Deller, Steve Bonafonte, Chairman of the Hartford Redevelopment Authority, and Brandon McGee, who [has been] sworn-in as the State Representative for the 5th District. Our project focuses on node development along Albany Avenue.
7. Last year I indicated that I would focus on job creation for entrepreneurs. This summer Hartford was the recipient of a highly competitive $1 million dollar “Innovation Grant” to establish an ‘innovation hub’ for entrepreneurs. I aim to restore the legacy of innovation that once defined our Capital City. Human capital is, after all, the most valuable asset to any business or organization. And that’s the path we’re on.
8. I said I’d recruit UCONN Medical School to Hartford. Since taking office in 2010, I have actively lobbied UConn to have a bigger footprint in the Capital City. We didn’t get the Medical School, but they have answered my call and announced late in 2012 that they would be relocating the West Hartford branch campus to Downtown Hartford.
9. Speaking of urban development – Spotlight Theater on Front Street is now open and Infinity Music Hall and Capital Grille are on their way.
10. We are aggressively moving forward with the state to immediately develop almost 1,000 units of housing in Downtown Hartford at 777 Main Street, 3 Constitution Plaza and 95/101-111 Pearl Street…and there are additional projects in the pipeline.
11. Coltsville is pending congressional approval as national park. Working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Congressman Larson’s office, we have expedited the streets cape improvements, which will break ground next year, and invested an additional $5 million to build 80 additional housing units. We will also be allocating considerable capital dollars for improvements at Colt Park and other critical infrastructure in the immediate area.
12. In addition to the 18 townhomes that are nearing completion along Popieluszku Court, we are actively working with the owners of the historic Capewell manufacturing building and will soon begin an environmental assessment in hopes of salvaging the historic structure and developing a more productive mix-used space. While we have many more steps to go on this particular project, we are grateful for the support of the neighborhood and Senator [John] Fonfara’s help in securing environment remediation dollars.
13. While included in the ULI study referenced earlier, we are collaborating with the Hartford Housing Authority, under the leadership of their new Executive Director – and law school classmate of mine – Annette Sanderson, and CHFA to rebuild the old Westbrook Village and Bowles Park public housing projects.
14. I look forward to demolition beginning later this year and working with the Housing Authority’s community task force in developing comprehensive mix-used development that recognizes this prime location as live/shop/dine space for the Upper Albany community, West End neighborhood, University of Hartford and the more than 15,000 vehicles that travel Route 44 on a daily basis.
15. On the Swift Factory project, another comprehensive community development venture for Common Ground, we secured a $500,000 environmental remediation grant from the state with Senator Coleman’s assistance, and the community garden component was incredibly successful this year. This $10 million dollar project is still in its earliest stages, but we remain committed to seeing it through to completion in the next several years.
16. In 2011, I introduced the Livable and Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative, a comprehensive neighborhood-centric effort charged with revitalizing Hartford neighborhoods and combating blight. Despite some problems that we identified and were highly publicized, we have formalized the operating procedures for health code violations and the citation action committee and continue to meet quarterly with stakeholders and neighborhood representatives to update them on our progress.
Other recent highlights include the installation of 40 Big Belly solar powered trash compactors and several solar powered motion sensor cameras at problematic illegal dumping sites.
Finally, we’ve also added greater predictability, transparency and collaboration to the budget development process.
In my two years as Mayor, we have:
• Reduced city spending by $4 million dollars and increased the balance of the Rainy Day Fund by about $6 million dollars, the highest among the major CT cities.
• Reduced the size of city-side government.
• Saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by modifying health care, prescription and pension plans.
• Saved millions of dollars by working with the City Treasurer to refinance old bond authorizations.
• Instituted new tracking and oversight mechanisms to better manage spending and revenue accounting.
• Shored-up the internal service funds that were running at major deficits.
• Focused on re-building our public safety and public works operations.
• Invested over $7 million in road reconstruction and paving and $10 million in park and green space rehabilitation and development.
• Worked with the Metro Hartford Alliance and our legislative delegation to make necessary modifications to our tax system to bring greater equity and balance. Much more remains to be done to eliminate the assessment ratio differential between residential and commercial – and there is plenty of time to do it (hint, hint, 2015 is around the corner) – and remain committed to working with all stakeholders to get it done in a way that provides fairness and continues our forward momentum.
Now let’s talk about this year.
Recently, I modified the key goals of my administration. They are now:
• RESPONSIVENESS: Each city office and department will make professional and fiscally responsible decisions based on data to deliver quality customer service that advances Hartford’s well being.
• IMPROVEMENTS: Improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods and community by focusing on infrastructure, eradicating blight and strengthening public safety to attain livable and sustainable city.
• ALIGNMENT: Align community-wide educational resources by integrating higher education, senior services, library, recreation and early childhood operations.
• COLLABORATION: To create a livable, sustainable and vibrant City with programs and partnerships that harness existing assets that support the business environment, maximize job retention and growth.
How I came to be in office is no secret. But when I ran and won election in November 2011, I was driven by one pure and simple goal: to create meaningful, lasting change in the community that I grew up in that shaped who I am today.
The theory of civic revitalization is based in the idea that one single leader, visibly doing the right thing, can influence whole community’s behavior. And deep down in my heart, I truly believe that.
When it comes to City management, I have been vocal about my objectives since the beginning. I want to catalyze growth, break down traditional bureaucracy and red tape, be more responsive, efficient and effective in managing the City. Never have been more fervent about these things than I am today.
Yet In these last two years, I have shifted my approach on how to restore and revitalize our Capital City.
As someone who represents government and was a psychiatric social worker, it demonstrates a shift in my thinking that is worthy of mentioning. It’s born of my experience being the Chief Executive Officer of Hartford, and knowing that we need to be able to stand on our own. We need to honestly evaluate our own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats if we are going to move forward and become the renaissance city that is our rightful place.
We know that metropolitan areas represent the greatest economic value in the nation and we know we have resources to leverage. What has changed is how we approach policy development and planning. Every idea, concept, plan must be set up for long term systemic growth and not short term political gain.
That means when we are talking about housing rehabilitation, infrastructure projects or economic development initiatives, we are approaching it the same way we would when writing a business plan. And so I mean, understanding what the vision is, the opportunities, what are our assets and challenges, what is the goal, the strategy, the implementation plan, the financial needs and what exactly are the measurable outcomes.
Simply put, a business approach to long-term growth that will allow us to reap the benefits of collaboration, of strategic thinking, of sharing industry knowledge, of economic analysis. Except that this process will be on going.
We need a specialized, regional, local-market, data driven approach to move our city forward. In other words, we need a business plan. We need to write Hartford’s business plan. We need to bring together all stakeholders – business (small and large), institutions, residents – to create multi-disciplinary teams to craft Hartford’s business plan.
The reality is we do have natural, specialized resources here in Hartford and we need to leverage them.
Greater Hartford has one of the highest GDP rates in the country. We are hard working, productive — the most productive city in the world according to Brookings — so how do we leverage that? Do we elevate our professional training? How do we leverage that to inspire entrepreneurs? We must look internally, assess what we really have, locally, create an operational plan and allocate the human capital necessary to achieve it. And with this approach, we reap the benefits of knowledge overlap, combined resources, lower transportation costs.
What is it that Hartford has? What is it that makes us competitive? What’s unique about our City that is a catalyst for future and lasting growth? You as the corporate/business community need to communicate what are your worker housing needs? What are the physical infrastructure needs you have around transportation? As we try to economize, where should we partner up to bring in efficiencies?
These are some of the data-driven questions my administration will focus on in 2013. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing that Hartford has nothing. That we are burden on the rest of the state. That we are a depressed urban-area in need of handouts.
We are Connecticut’s Capital City.
We are hub of innovation as recently observed by the Smithsonian Institute and the most productive City in the world according to the Brookings Institute. The residents of our neighboring towns, guess where a lot of them work? Right here in Hartford, the number three city in country for working mothers. They work here and because of that they enjoy a quality of life they would not otherwise have. But often they forget that as they drive away on I-84 or I-91 and see the skyline disappear in their rearview mirrors. And I’m tired of it. And that is what we’re focused on changing.
When it comes to implementation, the most efficient way to get things done is by forming partnerships. There’s really no other way. Not simply out of necessity because we face well-documented economic challenges, but also because there are other stakeholders invested in the success of Hartford. As they should be. Because our growth affects the State and the region.
Let me give you an example of a successful partnership that can still be improved.
In few days, we’ll be launching our annual Summer Youth Program. We’ve invested a least $1.25 million each year for the last two years. Last year we provided 1,500 Hartford youth with meaningful work experience. This is an example of the accomplishments that public/private partnerships bring.
And the more partners we have the better this. But how do we take this a step further? Are there certain industries or companies that we should be targeting? How do we think about this as long-term solution to unemployment? Are there certain skills these youth should be getting to better prepare them for competitive 21st century job market?
I hope I’ve made the point that public/private partnerships are the best way to grow and move forward.
That doesn’t mean that we always need economic resources – although we won’t say no when offered. We need to build those cross-disciplinary teams referred to.
As representatives of Hartford’s business community, I expect to hear ideas anchored in collaboration, I expect you to remind your colleagues and friends of all that Hartford has to offer, that it’s smart business to invest here. I expect open dialogue grounded in the common goal of moving our city forward.
We won’t always agree, but I think we all agree that we can’t afford to go off any cliffs here. We have to support the growth of our city with ideas, resources, hard work and creativity.
That’s the only way to create a sustainable economy in our City for all families.
I started with a quote and I will end with one. This one is a proverb. “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
I want to go far.
Thank you and all the best for a happy, safe and successful 2013!