Silver City on the Rise

City of Meriden
Written by Claire Suttles

Situated at the “crossroads of Connecticut,” Meriden is ideally located for business. The city of 60,000 – once the silver manufacturing capital of the world – sits in the geographic center of the state, at the intersection of Interstates 91 and 691, as well as the Merritt Parkway (Route 15) and Route 5, putting the community in the center of it all.
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“We are centrally located in Connecticut, so we really have great access to anywhere in the state with a reasonable commute time and, with the new rail service, we will have even better access to key markets in New York, Boston and beyond,” says Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski.

When Meriden’s new commuter rail opens in 2016, 138,000 jobs will be located within a 40-minute travel time from the city. The rail service is expected to help revitalize downtown as well as provide convenient public transportation. “[We are] taking advantage of the commuter rail program,” says Midstate Chamber of Commerce President Séan W. Moore. “One of my particular interests is to understand how to capture that audience when they get off the train at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 at night, and they are hungry and they are thirsty. How do we create that district that will hold them there for a couple of hours before they walk to their apartments?”

The thriving downtown district that Mr. Moore envisions is already underway. Meriden’s city center is in the midst of a long-term transformation to create a modern urban core consisting of pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development. Over $100 million is being invested in the redevelopment project, including the $20 million transit center, which is a part of the $467 million New Haven Hartford Springfield rail program.

Development rights have already been awarded to three major developers. “We are going to be moving forward with finalizing our development agreements with those developers over the next six months,” Ms. Burdelski reports. The project spans 20 acres, a sizable area for a 200-year-old city that has very little undeveloped land left. “Our community is pretty built out,” she points out. “We have been around for a couple hundred years, so we really don’t have a lot of vacant land for development. Part of this whole effort is to repurpose underutilized sites that have potentially attractive characteristics for 21st century living.”

The idea is to take advantage of the community’s dense, compact layout by creating the kind of walkable urban space that is so popular today. Meriden’s five-year downtown development plan includes around 500 new housing units that will be a particularly good fit for Millennials. “There are a whole lot of young workers who want to have an urban environment,” Ms. Burdelski remarks. “They want to have accessibility to jobs without necessarily needing a car. So we are trying to position ourselves to capture that market.”

A major flood control project has helped make downtown development possible. “In the past, in my opinion, [flooding] has been the single most horrendous impediment to downtown development,” says Mr. Moore. “What this project in downtown Meriden does is actually marry flood control with economic development.” The $14 million Meriden HUB Park and Flood Control Project includes the creation of a city park that will provide public green space, flood storage, and approximately 3 acres for redevelopment. “We are positioning our community to be resilient,” Ms. Burdelski says. “We feel we are putting in a very sound plan for the future. Business owners and investors that come into our downtown and all along the Harbor Brook flood control area will know that the infrastructure is in place to protect their properties from significant damage.”

The Meriden2020 campaign promotes the city’s five-year plan and keeps the community abreast of the latest developments. A slick website delivers a variety of government, business, recreational, educational and transportation related information and resources to both residents and visitors. From Easter egg hunt start times to where the latest brownfield project is breaking ground, the website has almost everything that people need to know about what is happening in their community. The Meriden2020 campaign also reaches the public through social media and an electronic billboard located on Interstate 91.

Meriden’s strategic location has attracted a wide variety of business sectors, from biotech, education and healthcare to retail, manufacturing and more. The city, which boasts a strong industrial past, is eager to keep bringing in diverse businesses and is offering a range of incentives. “We have a nice host of incentive programs for businesses moving to Meriden or expanding in Meriden, that provide tax incentives on real property improvements, real property investments, hiring incentives through the state of Connecticut, grants and loans through Small Business Administration and other lenders,” Ms. Burdelski reports. “So we have a whole package of incentives and financial tools for businesses to take advantage of.”

The East Main Street Incentive is designed to bring private investment to an underutilized commercial corridor that has a lot of untapped potential, and this tax abatement program is already bearing fruit. “We have a new car dealership that recently opened and several other properties look like they are going to turn over into productive commercial retail use,” says Ms. Burdelski. “Going forward, to be competitive, you have to look at the property taxes; businesses are looking for any way to reduce that, so we are trying to be responsive and it is starting to have an impact.”

An active Chamber of Commerce also supports incoming businesses. Because it is active throughout the entire region, the organization recently changed its name from the Greater Meriden Chamber of Commerce to the Midstate Chamber of Commerce. The new name “reflects the fact that there is an economy in central Connecticut that is greater than just Meriden,” Mr. Moore explains. “It extends to Hartford and even New York and Boston and beyond. We want to make sure we position our members to take advantage of these markets. We are trying to make sure that our members are able to maximize their business opportunities in as great a region as possible.” Chamber members can take advantage of everything from networking opportunities and marketing events to small business training. “We really feel like the Chamber is a major player in getting the tools and resources into the business community so they can grow and expand their businesses.”

Meriden offers a high quality of life in addition to business opportunities. Residents have plenty to do, from community theatre and regional shopping to outdoor activities. “We’ve got more parks than most communities – and they are absolutely fabulous parks,” Mr. Moore says. “Our signature park is Hubbard Park, designed by the Olmsted Brothers – the same firm that designed Central Park in Manhattan.” The Arts and Crafts Association of Meriden is “one of the oldest art associations in the country. It still continues to thrive and puts on shows virtually everyday.” Meriden’s central location also gives residents access to arts and culture in Hartford, Newhaven, and beyond. “There is a lot happening,” Mr. Moore summarizes.

“It is the perfect sized community,” Ms. Burdelski adds. “We are not too big, we are not too small. And you really have something for everybody here, from a downtown with historic architecture to a regional mall and a regional hospital.” Meriden also serves up plenty of community charm. “I don’t think that I have ever seen a community with more volunteers or more community spirit, from the Daffodil Festival to fundraising for community organizations, to the public schools, it is really phenomenal. We are here to make it even better and continue to make it an attractive place for young families in the future.”

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