2020 Award of Excellence: Downtown 2020
Town of Manchester

Manchester’s historic downtown has been a center of commercial and community life throughout its 135-year history. The nature of that commerce and Downtown’s role as a gathering place has changed over the years to meet consumer needs and desires. In recent years, Downtown Manchester has benefited from the desire of consumers for “authentic” experiences and locally-focused food and retail offerings in a walkable environment that exudes a sense of place. Downtown is poised for further growth, however this demand has cast a bright light on both opportunities and barriers:

  • Investors and business owners are captivated by the charm of downtown’s historic buildings, but are often unable to bridge the financial gaps between desired contemporary uses and the cost of code compliance necessary to ensure properties are safe and accessible;
  • As more people look to shop, dine, and visit the opportunity to enhance downtown’s brand and sense of place with capital improvements must not be overlooked; and
  • Restructuring the human capital and focus of downtown management is necessary to achieve economic development goals and reduce ancillary taxes.

Check out this great video on Downtown 2020!

The Downtown 2020 Initiative was created to address these opportunities and overcome these obstacles to help downtown reach its potential and “jump start” economic development. By setting the stage for success, eliminating barriers, jump starting private investment in downtown, the municipality has set the stage for future success of downtown, including using public dollars to stimulate private investment. Downtown 2020 has three components:

  1. A zero-interest loan program that uses public funds to bolster transformative private investment in historic multistory downtown buildings. Qualified investments include code updates and building improvements to accommodate new uses. This program attracted the owner of a ceramics studio on West Hartford who was interested in expanding her business east of the Connecticut river
  2. Public Capital Investments, including installation of market lights that create a festive gateway to Purnell Place; and creation of the first in a series of public murals along a pedestrian walkway connecting Main Street with a major downtown parking area, which reinforces the arts identity of downtown; and
  3. Restructuring the Downtown Manchester Special Services District (DMSSD) and its relationship with the municipality, with a goal of maximizing staff for economic development activity and business attraction.

Although funded by public dollars, the Town of Manchester is confident that these improvements and future capital improvement projects will stimulate private investment by strengthening downtowns’ brand, reinforcing a sense of place and incenting development. CT Main Street Center believes this is an excellent example of the municipality understanding and acting on its role in bringing downtown back to life.

By the end of the first year of the Downtown 2020 Initiative:

  • The first Downtown Investment Fund Loan/Grant Program applicant, The Firestone Art Studio + Café, was approved. Featuring the transformation of a 29,000 sq. ft. historic commercial building into a mixed-use property with a first floor DIY Arts Center & Café, and upper level maker space and residential units. Loan-funded improvements to ADA accessibility, fire sprinklers and elevator improvements totaling $200,000 will add lasting value to the property and enable over $500,000 in additional improvements to the property by The Firestone, which has been embraced as an arts, activity and and 12 new staff have been hired with an additional l8 hires when the café opens.
  • Two Public Capital Investment projects have been completed. The installation of market lights over a short stretch of roadway leading from Main Street to Purnell Place create a twinkling gateway to public parking and a growing enclave of downtown businesses. And a new public mural created by the artists of Black Ink Creative Partners LLC and entitled “Forward and Onward” celebrates Manchester’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and underscores downtown’s arts identity. Additional murals are planned for 2020.

Learn more about the Downtown 2020 Initiative!