Standing by the front entrance to in downtown Plantsville on Wednesday afternoon, owner Frank Palmieri simply pointed out the window toward a street light along West Main Street. There was only a slight wind, but as a tractor-trailer passed by, the light pole began swaying back and forth.
On the other side of the road, a car came to a near complete stop and pulled to the right to avoid brushing against the passing truck that drove along the center line to avoid cars parked in front of the commercial section near his store.
“Do I support efforts to make improvements down here? Absolutely I do,” Palmieri said. “It’s not something that’s needed; it’s something that’s long overdue.”
Downtown Plantsville could see a transformation in the near future as part of new renaissance project that business owners and commercial leaders in the community are pushing to get underway in the next couple years. The project is part of an economic development effort designed to bring more foot traffic to Southington’s downtown commercial areas and help expand business development.
Art Secondo, president of the , and the town’s coordinator Louis Perillo III said the efforts in Plantsville could be done in phases with certain sections targeted in order to receive grants and complete the project with little cost to taxpayers, but huge benefits.
“These projects have worked in several communities, but the best example is right in downtown Southington,” Perillo said. “When you look at what town actually invested, the income from that area developed has far exceeded the costs. It has expanded job opportunities and gotten praise from several surrounding communities.”
After three and a half years of waiting, along with a change in leadership when Garry Brumback took over for John Weichsel after his retirement in January 2011, Secondo said it’s time to begin focusing on the project again.
Secondo, who also spoke before the Town Council on Jan. 23, is asking for a phasing in of the project with the first portion to include a section of West Main Street spanning from the to , the Plantsville Firehouse.
The entire portion would cost about $1.4 million to complete, but could be reduced to under $1 million by putting the initial emphasis on brickwork and sidewalks, repairing lighting and getting additional parking that would help eliminate the on-street parking that has made the Route 10 intersection a hazard for both pedestrians and motorists.
“There has considerable development there and owners in the area have put a lot of money into their businesses, but there isn’t enough parking,” Secondo said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed and addressed soon.”
Business owners said this week that they are certainly in favor of the project, especially if it will expand parking in the area.
Palmieri, whose business thrives on repairing computer towers and other heavy electronics, said he’s talked to customers who decided not to go to his business after they couldn’t find a nearby parking spot. He said they refused to walk “a quarter mile or more” carrying heavy equipment.
Up the road at , owner Mark Zommer said finding parking on a Friday or Saturday night is nearly impossible.
“I’ve had customers who come regularly have to park at the Plantsville Congregational Church up the street just to come for dinner,” Zommer said. “If we had a public parking area, we could see a definite increase in business.”
The renaissance project could also prove beneficial to places like and , both which are looking to see more cultural opportunities develop in the area. But Sean Michanczyk, owner of Paris in Plantsville, said his biggest reason for supporting the project at this time is for improved safety in the area.
“It really is dangerous down here. I’ve seen tractor-trailers come by and take off rear view mirrors on at least a dozen occasions in the last year,” he said. “We hear from clients all the time that they’d be more willing to come this way and support the arts if there was a better place to park.”
Brumback said he is certainly interested in moving forward, and is already exploring outside funding options to help finance the efforts. Grant money is available on a state ad federal level, he said, and could allow the first phase of the project to begin in the not too distant future.
The first issue that needs to be addressed is the parking situation – something the town has considered a problem there for years – and that other aspects of the project could be developed after that.
It will still be some time before the project is ready to move forward, however, and is not likely to be included in this year’s budget.
“We’re at a point where it’s time to go back to Weston and Sampson, the architects involved in the downtown Southington portion, and ask begin breaking down the project into phases,” Brumback said. “After we break it into chunks, we will be able to be aggressive in seeking grants. In these tough economic times, we need to be diligent but make sure we are doing this right.”