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Author: Christine Schilke

Spotlight on Main Street: Middletown

Spotlight on Main Street: Middletown

  • CMSC: DT Middletown

  • CMSC: Middletown Main St

  • CMSC: Q Williams w guests

  • CMSC: Lt Gov Susan Bysiewicz

  • CMSC: DBD Coord Sandra Russo-Driska

  • CMSC: Middletown PD Chief Erik Costa

  • CMSC: Dominick DeMartino_DeMartino Development

  • CMSC: DeMartino Housing Rehab

  • CMSC: JR Hargraves Redev 1

  • CMSC: JR Hargraves Redev 2

  • CMSC: JR Hargraves_Hargraves Development

  • CMSC: JR Hargraves Redev Renderings

  • CMSC: KidCity 1

  • CMSC: KidCity 2

  • CMSC: Mayor Ben Florsheim

  • CMSC: Rep Quentin Williams

  • CMSC: Middletown DBD

Since 2013, CMSC and CEDAS have partnered on our Spotlight on Main Street networking events, where a hosting CMSC community shares how they have addressed local obstacles and achieved success in their downtown through collaboration, economic,  and community development.

In October 2022, CMSC & CEDAS members were treated to a behind-the-scenes view of the seven walkable blocks of Middletown’s Main Street, home to nearly 200 independent businesses from family-owned for generations to brand new, nestled along the Connecticut River. 

This event presented by

Highlights included:

  • A Welcome Reception on the Community Health Center Rooftop 
  • Guided walking tours of the downtown
  • A Closing reception hosted by the Inn at Middletown

With thanks to our host the Middletown Downtown Business District, a CMSC member community and speakers:

  • Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz
  • Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim
  • Jen Alexander, Chair, Downtown Business District
  • Sandra Russo-Driska, Downtown Business District Coordinator
  • Middletown Police Chief Erik Costa
  • Dominick DeMartino, DeMartino Development
  • JR Hargraves, Hargraves Development 
  • Larry McHugh, President, Middlesex County Chamber

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    CMSC Webinar Recap: Using Public Art for a More Vibrant & Welcoming Community

    CMSC Webinar

    Using Public Art for a More Vibrant & Welcoming Community

    Webinar Summary

    When public art is supported and implemented thoughtfully and strategically, it adds tremendous cultural, aesthetic, and economic value to a community by facilitating a sense of place and community pride. It encourages civic engagement and builds social capital through raising public awareness of important local issues and connecting residents to their neighbors and their shared history.

    In this webinar, our panel from around the country and Connecticut speaks to innovative public art programs that provide economic impact and create more inclusive communities.

    Presentation Highlights

    • The Importance of Public Art & Support – Connecticut Office of the Arts

      The arts provide meaning to our lives:

      • 69% of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences”
      • 73% feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in”
      • 81% say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world”

      Source Americans for the Arts

      Top 5 types of arts projects people favor for government funding:

      1. To provide art in parks, downtown areas, and other public places (72%)
      2. For returning military personnel, to aid in their transition to civilian life (70%)
      3. To provide arts and culture programs for the elderly (70%)
      4. To beautify blighted or abandoned areas (69%)
      5. To promote pro-social behavior with at-risk youth (69%)

      Source Americans for the Arts

      Quality of life matters:

      • 99% of the CEOs who were questioned stated that the availability of cultural activities in an area is an important consideration in choosing a new location Source Project for Public Spaces

      CT Office of the Arts provides programming to help communities implement meaningful art projects:

      • AIR Collaborative “is a field-tested and iterative, three-step pathway designed to build innovation and economic sustainability” through facilitated community meetings.

      For more information contact: Tamara Dimitri – or visit

    • Murals: Examples of Public Art – The Rise Up Group, Inc

      RiseUP is a Connecticut-based non-profit that provides localized, end-to-end placemaking and public art management. Services include:

      • Project management
      • Fundraising strategy (can serve as a fiscal sponsor)
      • Government relations
      • Community engagement
      • Execution strategy and advising
      • Connector/facilitator
      • Artistic management
      • Artist database

      The organization focuses on exclusively using local artists for community projects; 60% of their artists are people of color.

      Learn more and get in touch at

    • Light Art – Portland Winter Light Festival

      Portland Winter Light Festival is a family-friendly, city-wide temporary light art placemaking event that takes place in February based in Portland, Oregon.

      The festival started in 2016 with no city funding and had 30,000 visitors to its latest event in 2022 bringing in 189,000 attendees and generated $3.7m in estimated economic impact. The city now provides some funding, but the majority of funders are from private donors and sponsors.

      Of note:

      • Anchor sites – The festival has multiple dynamic anchor sites and has smaller installations throughout the city in smaller installations. The anchor sites have the power to bring people to areas that have gained a negative perception and reset their understanding of a place. For example, downtown Portland’s reputation was tarnished during COVID and protests, but the festival brought people back downtown to reestablish the narrative.
      • Involving businesses – The festival attracts small businesses, parking lots, and hotels to be a host site for pop-up installations. There is an application process, but the festival also reaches out to business. “We try to tailor participation to the interest of the industry. For example, architecture firms participate by having their staff create art installations that highlight the creativity of their firm. Hotel Partners offer lobby spaces and a small sponsorship in exchange for recognition on a list of participating hotels in the hopes that will lead to room rentals. We have a call for venue participants (businesses of any kind) who want to host artwork in their windows, and that is really tied to revenue generation and community engagement. Over time, our hope is to help build a network of creatives and businesses that can work together to place artwork in various venues so that they are pulling creatives from their own neighborhoods to show art in their spaces and creating clusters of activation. I do think private businesses have an important role to play in building the artistic landscape of our cities, and it seems that more businesses are seeing the intrinsic value of participating.” – Alisha Sullivan, Executive Director in follow-up email exchange
      • Survey teams – The festival deploys survey teams throughout the event to get feedback and to count attendees. This data is critical to demonstrate value to stakeholders and calculate economic impact.

      For more information, visit or reach out to Alisha Sullivan at

    • Music & Night-Time Economy – Sound Diplomacy

      Big Ideas:

      • “A chamber of culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce and cultural infrastructure plans are key.” For further explanation from a follow-up email with Kate Durio, “Chambers of Culture look at culture as more than just art for art’s sake and recognize the economic and tourism value and quality of life afforded by culture. Seeing artists and cultural businesses as entrepreneurs and businesses instead of ‘starving artists’ requires a culture shift backed by policy makers, tourism offices, business developers and even city planners. This is how it goes beyond just an art’s council, for instance. Sometimes starting small is enough to get going, by establishing regular meetings of tourism, economic development, local government, arts agencies, etc. With a focused agenda, shared objectives and clear roles for all involved, a community can accomplish a lot if participants all commit.”
      • Invest in people already present” – Exemplified in Tulsa, Oklahoma they focused on supported their local artists in small, impactful ways instead of investing in large public projects like an amphitheater.
      • Create policy that supports musicians – Sound Diplomacy provides a Top 10 list of key policies that can support musicians, night-time economy, and other creatives. Some policies are a large undertaking and others are smaller, incremental steps with a powerful impact. For example, creating busking policies that encourage street performers, loading zones for musicians so they can easily set up at their night venue, and having more than one person in charge of special permitting.

      Free Resources:

      Other Reading:

      For more information, visit or reach out to Kate Durio at

    View the Recording

    Other Resources

    View additional Placemaking resources from CMSC, our members and the many organizations we partner with.

    About the Speakers

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    CMSC Blog: A Unified Voice in Support of Downtown

    A Unified Voice in Support of Downtown

    By Michelle McCabe, CMSC Executive Director

    I fell in love with Fairfield because of its downtown.  The charm of attractive storefronts and restaurants, the feel of lots going on, watching people bustling about on a sunny day together combined to communicate a warm, welcoming community that I wanted to join.  In my new role as Executive Director of Connecticut Main Street Center, I have the privilege of falling in love with countless main streets beyond the town in which I live.  It’s no wonder that downtowns and main streets are consistently referenced as a draw to Connecticut, bringing new businesses, workers, and visitors to live, work and play in our state.

    However, we know that creating an inviting main street is no easy feat.  Main streets rely on a complex network of relationships. Housing, food and drink, transportation, workforce, walkability, arts and culture, entertainment, parking, zoning, property owners and small businesses – many competing interests that require careful balancing and negotiation in order to craft a working ecosystem.   Interdependency may be the underlying reality of a main street but that doesn’t mean that all the stakeholders on main street see the bigger picture when conducting their daily business.  A skilled main street manager builds coalitions among these actors, uniting them around common goals to support the entire corridor.   Strength in numbers all rowing in the same direction can realize sustainable and continuous growth.

    The relationship and coalition building that is so critical to a vibrant main street informs advocacy at the state-level as well.  Decision making each session has a ripple effect at the municipal level with the capacity to raise all ships or possibly sink them.   Main streets have an opportunity to influence those decisions, to raise concerns, enact new policies, and direct funding that will support success in our rural, suburban and urban downtowns.  In order to move the needle, main streets benefit from joining forces around a unified platform.

    Connecticut Main Street historically has facilitated building a collective voice for our members and making connections with other advocacy coalitions to support our priorities. In the last session, CMSC advocated in support of legislation that expanded outdoor dining options and the application of abandoned and blighted property receivership, and informed proposed legislation around transit oriented development.  Additionally, CMSC partnered with the newly formed Main Street Working Group, comprised of Reps. Jennifer Leeper, Jane Garibay, and Quentin Williams.  The Working Group was created to study existing policies and identify opportunities to support local Downtown Main Streets across the state. CMSC provided them with information on issues facing downtowns and connected the Working Group with downtown professionals and industry experts who can speak to issues managing a downtown.

    In preparation for the upcoming session, we spent the summer and fall making sure that we heard from our members about what they need.  As a response to the focus on affordable housing around transit nodes, we conducted a TOD listening tour, visiting several of the main streets impacted by the proposed legislation.  In September, we distributed our first CMSC Advocacy Survey to gather input on a variety of topics from mixed income residential to support for small business to expanding transit.  The results are informing our policy priorities, which we will be unveiling in December along with the first convening with the legislature’s Main Street Working Group.  As a preview to our upcoming report, here are the issues that rose to the top from the results of our conversations and survey responses:

    • Increase direct support for main street small businesses and food retailers that includes access to capital and addressing workforce shortages
    • Support downtown development through a combination of tax incentives and access to capital
    • Enact implementation legislation that can allow for more municipal input on main street properties
    • Expand bus lines to better connect workers to jobs, increase funding for multimodal transit, and increase frequency of rail and bus
    • Shorten wait times for approval processes in administrative departments
    • Ensure that all downtowns – whether they are urban, suburban or rural – have equal access to funding and incentives

    Weighing in on legislation being crafted that impacts main streets is important; creating our own Main Street bills that are designed to specifically support vibrancy is essential.   CMSC is looking forward to continued input from our members as we move into session in honing our priorities, meeting with legislators, and submitting public testimony. 

    As everyone’s neighborhood, Connecticut’s main streets are one of our state’s most precious assets.  CMSC will work to ensure state-level investments are made in terms of supportive policies, funding, marketing, and efficiencies that reflect their importance to Connecticut’s future.

    About the Author

    Michelle McCabe is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Executive Director.  Michelle brings 12 years of non-profit experience to CMSC.  Before joining, Michelle served as interim Executive Director for HomeBridge Ventures, a non-profit focused on holistic workforce development and re-entry programming for formerly incarcerated individuals, and over seven years as Director of the FEED Center with The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. In the course of this work, she built multiple programs from the ground up, leading strategic planning, raising funds from a diversity of revenue sources, and guiding boards and staff through organizational change. Her experience also extends to successful public/private collaborations, community engagement, and policy advocacy.  Michelle currently serves on the Board of the Connecticut Arts Alliance and as a member of Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from Vassar College and a master’s degree in art history and criticism from the University of Texas at Austin.

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    Small Business Boost Program

    CT Small Business Boost Program

    Program Overview

    The CT Small Business Boost Fund is a new resource to help small downtown & Main Street businesses move forward.

    Supported by the Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD), the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund links small businesses and non-profits to the financial support they need to thrive.

    The CT Small Business Boost Fund gives small business owners access to flexible funding for capital expenditures and working capital and connects them with support services. 

    • Small businesses and non-profits can borrow between $5,000 – $500,000 depending on eligibility and need.
    • Businesses can choose how they spend the money — on equipment, payroll, utilities & rent, supplies, marketing & advertising, eligible refinancing, building renovations and other expenses.
    • Loans are not forgivable. Businesses will need to pay back the full amount of the loan with interest over a 60- or 72-month term.

    Learn More

    Additional Information

    • Application

      • No origination fees
      • Streamlined application process
      • Quick application approval timelines
      • Support in multiple languages
    • Loan Terms

      • Borrow between $5,000 and $500,000 (subject to eligibility)
      • Fixed 4.5% interest rate
      • 60-month repayment terms for loans less than $150,000; 72-month repayment terms for loans over $150,000
    • Eligibility Requirements

      • Business and nonprofits must have operations in Connecticut
      • Have no more than 100 full-time employees
      • Have annual revenues of less than $8 million
      • Businesses and nonprofits must have been in operation for at least 1 year prior to the date of application. A small amount of financing is available for start-up businesses


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    CSMC Webinar: Supporting Small Businesses on Main Street

    CMSC Webinar

    Supporting Small Businesses on Main Street

    Webinar Summary

    The findings in Main Street America’s 2022 Small Business Survey give great insight into the concerns, needs, and wants from Main Street businesses. This survey (and asking your business community directly) gives excellent guidance to Main Streets on what types of programs that should be focused on implementing. In fact, according to Main Street America 26% of survey respondents say that they are receiving assistance from Main Street programs, which has increased 4% prior to COVID indicating Main Street programs are becoming more important in supporting their small businesses.

    Presentation Highlights

    • Desired Support #1: Incentives & Financial support

      Example Hart Lift Program

      The Hart Life Program is in partnership with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the City of Hartford to help property owners secure tenants in their vacant storefronts with up to a $150,000 grant.

      There have been 46 approved applicants since the launch of the program and 6 businesses have opened to date. The businesses supported through this program are diverse in terms of types of businesses and 72% are MWBE-owned businesses.

      The program is open to property owners that are in good standing with the City of Hartford with vacant ground floor retail space and who are actively working with a prospective tenant. The matching grants can be used only for buildout and furniture, fixture, and equipment costs, and the new business must conform with POCD and all planning and zoning requirements and guidelines.

      The second phase of the program will include more targeted neighborhood outreach and networking events and workshops to support the business owners.

      Learn more at

    • Desired Support #2: Increased district-wide marketing & promotion

      Example Colorful Bridgeport

      Colorful Bridgeport is Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District’s branding and marketing campaign launched in 2019. It “spreads color and joy through business features, public art, activations, and events with the goals of economic development, distinct identity, positive perception, and an in improved quality of life for all.”

      Critical to any downtown branding is highlighting the assets of the district. Colorful Bridgeport focuses on highlighting its people – not buildings or other geographic markers. The whole branding scheme “personalizes and humanizes” its district by using images of real people you will find downtown. This approach is an excellent example of creating a sense of pride in place, but it also is a strategic way to overcome negative perceptions.

      Consistency and the use of partnerships are critical to the success of the branding campaign. All district events and activations align with the Colorful Bridgeport brand, small business owners who have not been engaged previously have a renewed sense of getting involved, and partners are equipped with marketing and branding tools to align with Colorful Bridgeport. 

      Visit Downtown Bridgeport’s website to see Colorful Bridgeport in action.

    • Desired Support #3: Stronger organization of businesses in the area

      Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs is an alternative to a traditional merchant meetup. Focused on storytelling in an informal setting, this event highlights a small business owner’s story and brings together the business community, entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the general community.

      There are no sales pitches and no PowerPoints – just stories. Speakers are coached on how to tell great stories pulling on lessons from “The Storyteller’s Secret” by Carmine Gallo and “Start with Story” by Lyn Graft.

      Read the story of how Silver City Main Street in Silver City, New Mexico used this storytelling format to engage the business community and greater community in their small town of under 10,000.

      Connect with Melanie Lenci, founder of Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs, and learn more about Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs program:

    View the Recording

    Key findings from the 2022 Small Business Survey:

    • Top 5 Biggest Concerns of Small Business

        1. Shrinking margins
        2. Challenges with inflation
        3. Challenges hiring and filling positions with qualified applicants
        4. Cost of rent
        5. Supply chain issues
    • Top 5 Desired Types of Support

        1. Incentives and financial support for small business
        2. Increased district-wide marketing and promotion
        3. Stronger organization of businesses in the area
        4. Improvements to the physical design of the area (e.g. accessibility, lighting, wayfinding, streetscape)
        5. Incentives, support, or technical assistance for storefront/façade renovations or energy efficiency
    • Top 5 Topics Small Businesses are Interested in Developing

        1. Online marketing
        2. Partnerships with other local businesses and business groups
        3. Leveraging data to improve marketing and inventory
        4. Strengthening relationships with local and state government
        5. Ecommerce

      Learn more at Main Street America.

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    About the Presenters

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    CMSC’s Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker Departing for State Agency

    CMSC’s Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker Departing for State Agency

    Longtime Downtown advisor headed to DECD

    October 17, 2022

    Connecticut Main Street Center announces the departure of Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker, Senior Director of Main Street Services & Projects, effective Friday, October 21st. Kim will be assuming a new post with the Connecticut Department of Community and Economic Development, where she’ll serve as Community Development Specialist, managing the CT Communities Challenge Grant Program.

    Kim joined CMSC in 2001, shortly after the then-Connecticut Light & Power Company (now Eversource) restructured the original CT Main Street Program into the Connecticut Main Street Center, an independent non-profit. Over that time, CMSC’s member communities relied on Kim as she guided them through community visioning and planning, in-depth consultancies, and countless training and networking events, in addition to her endless advice and encouragement.

    Kim contributed enormously to the growth and success of CMSC, helping to grow membership to over 80 communities, more than doubling the staff, and most recently serving as Interim CEO. She leaves the organization with an expanded team of professionals to assist Main Streets across the state and in the capable hands of new Executive Director, Michelle McCabe.

    Kim is looking forward to the opportunity to transition into a new role after many years with CMSC. “While my colleagues have known about this for a while, I’m glad I can finally share the news with everyone else. I’m proud of what CMSC has accomplished and thrilled with where it’s headed. I’m excited to see what they do next and excited about taking on this new challenge at DECD. It really feels like a natural evolution for CMSC and for me,” said Kim.

    “Kim did an excellent job helming the organization through its transition and laying the foundation for me to be able to jump right in. DECD is a great partner of ours, and it will be a tremendous benefit to have Kim’s specific expertise at the State level. I am thrilled for Kim as she starts this exciting new chapter and look forward to working with her in her new capacity,” said Michelle McCabe, CMSC Executive Director.

    “Kim has been a mainstay here at CT Main Street Center for decades. She was a go-to resource to myself when serving as the Mayor of Torrington and has remained so during my service on the Board of Directors. Her contributions to downtowns in Connecticut are incalculable. On behalf of the Board here at CT Main Street Center, we wish her the best in her new role with DECD and look forward to working with Kim for many years to come,” said Ryan Bingham, CMSC Board Chair.

    CMSC is looking forward to celebrating Kim at a December event. In the meantime, please join us in thanking Kim for her service to CMSC and Connecticut’s downtowns, and wishing her much success in her new role at DECD.

    About Connecticut Main Street Center

    CMSC is the expert resource for developing and sustaining vibrant downtowns that fuel our state’s prosperity. Our mission is to assess, educate, convene, and advocate to develop and grow our traditional downtowns, village centers, and urban mixed-use neighborhoods. We provide education and training, resources and technical assistance, and function as the statewide champion for downtowns and Main Streets of all sizes.

    CMSC is supported by its Founding Partners, Eversource Energy and the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD). CMSC is also supported by its Growth Partners, UIL Holdings and the State Historic Preservation Office. More information is available at

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    CMSC Blog: From Problems to Partners Training Recap

    From Problems to Partners Training Recap

    By Kristen Lopez

    As a Main Street professional, do any of these challenges sound familiar?

    • The need to rebuild trust
    • A COVID-created sense of disconnectedness
    • Educating the community on “why”
    • Getting buy-in or people to commit and participate
    • Communication issues like leveraging technology and collaborating across sectors
    • Resistance to change

    If so, you’re not alone.

    These are the challenges attendees identified during our recent training, From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments. Main Street Leaders from all corners of Connecticut convened at CMSC’s Hartford office to learn practical engagement strategies and tactics through interactive case studies and group discussion led by Raquel Vazquez from The Empowered Block.

    And those challenges listed above? It turns out the core source is misaligned engagement efforts.

    During the training, Raquel led attendees through discussions and exercises focused on how to re-align those engagement efforts. In this post, we’re summarizing some of the key ideas and strategies that you can put into use today.

    Understanding Stakeholders’ Roles and Perspectives

    The first step to building strong, trusting connections with stakeholders is to understand their role in the downtown ecosystem, and to fully understand their priorities, wants, and needs. Without taking this into consideration, expectations and motivations can be easily misunderstood and communication can break down.

    Every stakeholder has unique perspectives. If you are having trouble understanding a stakeholder, some strategies you can employ are: ask for clarification and practice active listening, ask for feedback, keep an open line of communication, and promptly resolve misunderstandings and miscommunications.

    Take inventory of your downtown stakeholders and go through an exercise of considering their role and their priorities/needs/wants. For example, small business owners contribute to the sense of a place in the downtown and they are concerned with hiring and maintaining good employees. What else do small business owners contribute and prioritize?

    Engagement Strategies

    Building relationships with stakeholders happens through engagement. Some communities leverage technology like Bang the Table and CitizenLab, while others use traditional means like newsletters and social media. However, these typical strategies only serve one-way forms of communications and are best for sharing announcements. Depending on your objectives – like developing a plan or solving a complex problem – you need to utilize multiple methods of engagement. For example, you might want to convene focus groups for input on the development of a plan, a steering committee to get different perspectives on a problem, or a formal partnership to tackle a more intricate challenge. 

    Inclusive Engagement

    Critical to any successful stakeholder engagement is inclusivity. Ensure that relationships are formed with groups diverse across gender, race, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, disability, LGTBTQIA, different ages, and other identities. Create a welcoming environment and expand accessibility (e.g. language, physical abilities, time of day, method of engagement, etc.), but don’t make assumptions that you know best how to achieve an inclusive environment. Solicit feedback and guidance from community members or hire an appropriate consultant.

    It also helps to be aware of your community’s history of exclusion and how it impacts today. Communities that have been historically disenfranchised may not engage because they feel “my voice doesn’t matter.” Resources to consider are the book “Color of the Law” by Richard Rothstein and trauma-informed community engagement.

    Building Collaborative Teams

    To build high-performing, collaborative teams, first understand some of the challenges in forming such teams: people are stressed, they have biases, some are perceived as being difficult, goals and timelines can be unrealistic, priorities and needs aren’t communicated, body language or tone can be misinterpreted.

    How can you overcome these barriers? Invest in developing your active listening skills, improve your ability to navigate difficult conversations, and facilitate effective meetings. Learn about team dynamics and accept different people’s perspectives and preferred forms of communication or working environments.

    Learn More

    A huge thank you to Raquel Vazquez for bringing this training to Connecticut’s downtown leaders. To learn more about The Empowered Block and Raquel’s work, please visit or reach out to Raquel directly at

    About the Author

    Kristen Lopez is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Education & Training Director. With over 12 years of program development and marketing experience in economic development with a specific focus on small business,  she is motivated by the mission to see Main Streets across Connecticut thrive. Kristen is an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer alum, a StartingBloc Fellow, and Next City Vanguard Fellow. She holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Messiah University.

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    CSMC Webinar: How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

    CMSC Webinar

    How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

    Webinar Summary

    Every Main Street will face vacancies from time to time, and COVID only exacerbated this challenge across Connecticut and the country. Not only are persistent vacancies detrimental to creating and sustaining a vibrant downtown, but they also have a negative economic impact on the community. In this webinar, our presenter Ilana Preuss – international speaker, and fierce advocate for creating great places and small-scale manufacturing – shares:

    • Innovative approaches to filling vacant storefronts from around the country
    • Programmatic ideas to collaborate with property owners
    • Long-term solutions to keep storefronts full by supporting local small business ecosystems

    Presentation Highlights

    • 5 Reasons why vacant storefronts exist

      1. Cost of renovation: The cost to renovate a vacant space is too high and the market does not support a lease rate that supports the cost of renovation.
      2. Tax benefits: Property owners gain a tax benefit on the loss of not leasing space.
      3. Devalue underwriting: For new, big development projects, the owner doesn’t want to lower the price of the storefronts to not devalue the whole project if they are looking to sell or refinance at some point.
      4. Guaranteed lease: This is common to see in malls or big box strip centers, where a major anchor tenant has a guaranteed lease for an extended period of time so no one else can come into the space.
      5. Mismatch of real estate sizes and small business needs: A lot of communities have a lot of storefronts that are 2,000-10,000 square feet when a lot of small businesses need 500-1,000 square feet.
    • Context & national trends that are influencing our downtowns:

      • Vacant storefronts reduce the value of nearby property by 20% or more. They reduce traffic to these areas and leads to a feeling of isolation in the community. The impact of vacancies are multi-fold and in many cases create a downward spiral in communities.
      • During COVID, a lot of businesses pivoted, some survived, and many did not.
      • Over 1 million COVID deaths impacted our householders, economy, and individuals. The psychological impact of the pandemic cannot be ignored.
      • A lot of people started businesses in recent years without a lot of business experience. They started small business because they lost their jobs or decided to pursue their passion or a different quality of life.
      • People are demanding higher wages and pay.
      • Before the pandemic we saw demographic shifts such as decline in working age population and growing income and wealth inequality – which have only been exacerbated during COVID.
      • A lot of major chains shrunk their footprint and are focusing on prime locations.
    • Strategies to fill vacant storefronts

      1. Support small business

      Specifically focus on small-scale manufacturing (businesses that make consumer products). These businesses have opportunities for different sources of revenue making them more resilient – retail, wholesale, online, pop-ups, etc. They are a draw for foot traffic in your downtown and bring people together.

      • Provide financing to support these businesses
        • Provide incubators, accelerators, or other support programs to help them gain business skills and/or how they can move into storefronts particularly when paired with market opportunities and financing
        • Examples of training programs for getting home-based businesses into storefronts: Baltimore Home Run Accelerator, 37 Oaks

      2. Commercial Vacancy Tax Ordinance

      3. Tax Increment Finance (TIF) or other funding vehicle with matching grants

      4. Financing for local business to buy real estate

      • Keep real estate ownership local by providing support and financing options for local small business owners who have the interest and capacity to purchase property.
      • Examples: Pittsburgh

      5.Commercial Land Trust

    View the Recording

    Other Resources

    About Ilana Preuss

    Ilana Preuss is the Founder and CEO of Recast City and the author of the new book “Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing.”

    Preuss’ passion for great places grew out of her experience working with small and large cities all over the country when she led the technical assistance program at the U.S. EPA Smart Growth Program, and as the Vice President & Chief of Staff at Smart Growth America. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University and a Masters of City Planning from the University of Maryland.

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    CMSC Blog: Right-sizing Projects in Today’s Volatile Construction Market

    Right-sizing Projects in Today’s Volatile Construction Market

    By Michael C. Scott, AIA, TSKP STUDIO

    There are two Towns only 9 minutes apart in the surprisingly large state of Pennsylvania, the Town of Desire and the Town of Panic. As architects, we find ourselves on the road driving between desire and panic, trying to find the right balance for projects. Establishing the goals of a project early and building consensus around those goals can build a solid road map to follow as plans unfold and detours occur.

    Public clients grow and build differently than commercial clients. Public capital projects are built less frequently and must last longer. While budgets guide all projects, public projects are often constrained to the initial budget number, often by public money appropriated by referendum. This creates an early public expectation of scope, quality, and cost, which must be met. Typically, public projects have a champion or a group of visionaries who drive the initial steps and have a multitude of stakeholders. For a community to truly become invested in the project, these stakeholders need to be included early in the process when the project goals are established. Ultimately, it is the end user who will determine the success of the project.

    Once a project’s goals are established, and existing conditions have been studied, the beginning of a concept starts to take shape. During the design process, projects are introduced and tested against the real world in which they must perform. Any educator, leader, or parent recognizes this as the adolescence stage. Projects, like most people, grow awkwardly. They present flashes of what they can become but often reside as partially realized until another sudden moment of growth. Projects have always developed in this manner, but what happens when projects must do so in the current market environment?

    Unprecedented changes and struggles defined the last two years. Construction markets thrive on stability. Since early 2020, we have seen nothing but volatility as the market has swung between extremes. The initial pandemic uncertainty forced immediate and dramatic deflation as bidders attempted to hold production and maintain market share. Our region saw bids as much as 20% below 2019 budgets. However, as the uncertainty of the pandemic persisted, the market became dominated by scarcity. Shortages of labor and materials pressured commodity markets and production. Shipping and delivery issues started to become commonplace. As the market recognized these new realities, inflation and interest rates rose. In our region, we see escalation well above 10%.

    If the construction market thrives on stability, how can projects be successful when the market unexpectedly swings by as much as 30%? These are challenging times for clients and their developing projects. Experience as architects, educators, and leaders, teaches us three key points.

    1. BE CLEAR. Guiding the development of public projects relies on consistently reinforcing the project’s goals. These goals must be clear and the standards set early. Moreover, there must be consensus on those goals. A project with a clear vision is more likely to succeed in a volatile market. When obstacles arise, turn to the project goals to guide decisions. This can safeguard the project from adding unnecessary frills, blowing the budget, or (worse) taking away necessities to meet the budget. Projects must meet their goals to be successful.
    1. BE OPEN. Multiple solutions achieve the necessary criteria. Build first what must be in place, knowing it will stand for decades. Consider building with materials that are timeless and durable. Then build what is needed only for now, not for all time. Consider multiple uses of the same space. Build less space. Public projects come to life when occupied by their end-users. Smaller, more durable projects are more lively and adaptable. Exposing a project to today’s market pressures burns off the unnecessary to reveal the essential. Testing the desired project goals against what is needed minimizes future budget and program panic.
    1. BE NIMBLE. Now that the essential project criteria are defined, and goals have been achieved, it’s time to meet with the stakeholders to discuss the next set of standards. Offer flexibility, serve more end-users, last longer, and operate more efficiently, for example. As designers, we build these criteria into the drawings at every phase called Add Alternates. An Add Alternate is a list of “nice to haves” which are priced at every milestone. Ultimately, the project is bid with these alternates allowing the market to weigh in on their value. We have found that even in this volatile market, competition for the overall project affords aggressive pricing and good value on alternates. These alternates also have an advantage well in advance of bid day. At each phase, the list of alternates is priced and evaluated by the project team. Together, we can track the “cost” of features, programs, or systems the stakeholder values. This affords the project “rank-choice” prioritization. Some alternates might be folded into the core project. Some may fade away. Alternates create an open and transparent forum for what the project could and must include. Alternates save time. This allows a project to proceed onto the next phase and ultimately into bidding. However, alternates are not a list of needs. The core project must meet the overall goal without any of these alternates.

    Not long ago, we built things to be sustainable. Now we build to be resilient – resiliency in our institutions, our programs, and our communities. Projects, too, must be resilient. Buildings, in their final form, should be adaptable. For the foreseeable future, bringing such facilities into being must adapt to these market forces. Such an effort requires passionate foresight of all a project must become and patient insight into how it must get there.

    About the Author

    Michael C. Scott

    Michael C. Scott has contributed to a wide range of project types and scales, from working with Steve Jobs on the corporate campus for Pixar in Northern California to a middle school in Middletown, Connecticut. He enjoys creating a complete environment that fosters a sense of community and leaves the community with a feeling that their voices were heard.  Michael is a registered architect and a senior associate in the Hartford-based TSKP STUDIO with 25 years of experience. He can be found exploring a trail in one of Connecticut’s many land trusts or at his local library, browsing books related to local history or humor (sometimes the same book).

    About TSKP

    TSKP Studio

    Founded in 1970, TSKP STUDIO is a diverse architectural practice that continues the legacy of our founder, Tai Soo Kim, who grew the firm to international recognition through a dedication to hard-work, exploration and commitment to logical and elegant design. Our work responds to the unique context of each site and client with educators often remarking how well the classrooms and spaces work for their students and them. By embracing the diversity and talents of our staff we leverage a broad range of skills and experiences to provide fresh solutions to complex challenges. Regardless of project scope, size or budget, our definition of success is creating spaces that positively impact the life, productivity and wellbeing of our clients and end-users.

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    Waterbury Accepting Applications for Central Business District Investment Program

    Waterbury Announces Central Business District Investment Program

    Now Accepting Applications

    The Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in partnership with the City of Waterbury, is launching a new economic investment program aimed at helping central business district property owners lease their vacant storefronts.

    The initiative, named the Central Business District Investment Program (CBDIP), uses $1.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds for a new matching grant program that is designed to help property owners within the district who were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Under the program, eligible property owners can receive up to $100,000 to be used for interior or exterior buildout costs for vacant ground floor-level retail space. Property owners with vacant storefronts are eligible for a grant of $50 per square foot, up to $100,000. Any grant awarded to a property owner must be matched at 100 percent by the owner of the property, the tenant, or a combination of both parties. Applications are now being accepted; to get started, click here.

    The Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce Foundation is an affiliate of the Waterbury Regional Chamber. Waterbury Regional Chamber staff serve as GWCC Foundation staff and are directing and leading the program. An oversight and approval committee, compromised of City officials and Chamber Foundation officials are responsible for reviewing and awarding the grants.

    More information

    About Connecticut Main Street Center

    CMSC is the expert resource for developing and sustaining vibrant downtowns that fuel our state’s prosperity. Our mission is to assess, educate, convene, and advocate to develop and grow our traditional downtowns, village centers, and urban mixed-use neighborhoods. We provide education and training, resources and technical assistance, and function as the statewide champion for downtowns and Main Streets of all sizes.

    CMSC is supported by its Founding Partners, Eversource Energy and the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD). CMSC is also supported by its Growth Partners, UIL Holdings and the State Historic Preservation Office. More information is available at

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