The City of New Haven, through Mayor Toni Harp’s office and the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven , contracted CMSC in March to assist in determining the feasibility of implementing a neighborhood commercial district revitalization program. To build and sustain such a program, the City would partner with neighborhood leaders, stakeholders, and key institutions.
To make the determination, the City identified four areas to serve as a representative sampling of neighborhood commercial districts. CMSC President & CEO John Simone and Kent Burnes of Burnes Consulting then visited each the four districts: Grand Avenue, Whalley Avenue, Congress Avenue and Dixwell Avenue. Mayor Harp’s office and City staff arranged for the participation of many neighborhood associations, businesses, anchor institutions and residents during CMSC’s assessment. Mr. Simone and Mr. Burnes spent a week walking each neighborhood, meeting with over 300 hundred local residents and stakeholders and engaging in “community conversations”.
In its final report, CMSC concluded that New Haven does indeed have the capability to begin a revitalization program, utilizing the Main Street Four Point Approach™ to downtown and commercial neighborhood revitalization. This approach is a proven model that has been used successfully in over 40 states and 1,800 communities. It is based on developing a comprehensive management plan for a given district, similar to the way a shopping mall is managed. Once established, the program would be able to perform its own assessment of neighborhoods – including, and in addition to, the four visited – and then provide the resources and expertise to help these neighborhoods develop effective and sustainable programs on the ground.
“When we started this, we weren’t sure what the outcome would be,” said Mr. Simone. “What we found was a City full of potential, both in terms of what residents and visitors are seeking in their neighborhoods, and the resources the City can provide to make those changes occur. ” Creating more vibrant, economically secure neighborhoods will benefit New Haven as a whole, as studies have shown that dense, compact development like that found in New Haven neighborhoods has a far greater return on investment than traditional “big box” stores. Having residents in a district also generates revenue, as those living in a given district tend to patronize local shops and restaurants.
“My administration is committed to expanding economic opportunity beyond downtown to include vitally important opportunities along these major arteries, and I believe the Connecticut Main Street Center can assist residents, business owners, and other community leaders in this effort,” Mayor Toni N. Harp said. “Many stakeholders already have an idea what it will take to activate these commercial districts, now we’ll add input about infrastructure, streetscapes, and traffic calming to devise the best way to move people and goods through the city, into these neighborhoods, and into these businesses.”
CMSC’s report outlined a number of recommended next steps, including:
- Convene a Neighborhood Revitalization Task Force within City Hall. The task force would be comprised of City staff and help coordinate and streamline public and private support and resources for the downtown initiatives.
- Create a New Haven Neighborhood Revitalization Center (NHNRC). This center would transform the currently proposed Elm City Business Development Center into the expanded NHNRC. The new center would have co-directors trained in providing technical assistance and developing programs customized for the unique neighborhood commercial districts.
- Build local leadership and capacity by identifying and implementing pilot projects that address local concerns.
CMSC’s report lays out several additional steps the City can pursue once it’s established the Neighborhood Revitalization Center, as well as a timeline for implementing these steps. All told, CMSC estimates the new center could be launched in about 35 weeks, given the City’s level of commitment under Mayor Harp.
CMSC believes the New Haven Neighborhood Revitalization Center will be transformative for the districts, capturing a clear desire of citizens who are willing to help improve their neighborhoods, but unsure how to help. Providing a forum for training, networking and communication will allow residents and stakeholders in each district to create a shared vision that is supported by the City through the NHNRC.
To view CMSC’s full report and recommendations, click here.