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CT Construction Digest Monday May 3, 2021

Will flood mitigation project delay new Bassick High School in Bridgeport?

and Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — City officials insist ground will be broken this year in the South End on a new Bassick High School, despite advice from one state agency to hold off until the completion of a massive flood mitigation project in that same neighborhood.

“Let me just say this — Bassick will be built and we will not, as long as we have permission from the state (school) construction board, wait until Resilient Bridgeport is completed,” City Councilman Marcus Brown said in an interview Wednesday.

Brown is co-chairman of the city’s school construction committee, which includes other council colleagues, as well as representatives from the Board of Education, engineering, planning and finance departments.

Resilient Bridgeport is a $52 million, federally-funded, state-implemented effort to fortify the South End from flooding during major storms with various infrastructure improvements, including a pumping station, a storm water park, and roadway upgrades. Planning is being overseen by Shante Hanks, a Bridgeport political activist hired in 2019 as Connecticut’s deputy housing commissioner.

The project is scheduled to begin in 2022 and be completed by late summer 2023.

“I don’t see any reasons why the (Bassick) project can’t move forward,” said Schools Superintendent Michael Testani. “One has nothing to do with another.”

He and Brown were responding Wednesday to Hanks’ comments the previous night during a teleconference updating the public on the completion of 60 percent of Resilient Bridgeport’s designs. Asked at meeting’s end by Hearst Connecticut Media if her team would recommend Bassick be delayed, Hanks said she had already advised city school officials “at least let us start our project.

“It would be ideal for them to let us complete (Resilient Bridgeport),” Hanks said. “It (Bassick) is in a flood zone. It’s in a flood plain.”

But once Resilient Bridgeport is finished, Hanks continued, that will no longer be the case: “That will definitely benefit them when it comes to pursuing their permits and such (for Bassick). Until then they would, in essence, be building a school in a flood zone.”

Hanks added the decision about whether or not Bassick moves ahead is not her agency’s — “we don’t provide permitting, funding, anything for that project” — and “we’re willing to work with them (Bridgeport) either way.”

“There would definitely be some challenges with those two major projects going on at the same time,” Hanks said. She could not be reached Wednesday for further clarification.

Testani and Board of Education Chairman John Weldon were also listening to Tuesday’s teleconference and, before Hearst submitted its question, tried to get Hanks to weigh in on whether Bassick could proceed first.

Hanks told them ultimately it is a city decision. She emphasized her design team has been in regular contact with Bridgeport officials and that Resilient Bridgeport “is independent of the new Bassick project that’s been around roughly the last six months.”

Resilient Bridgeport has been in the works for several years and was a direct response to 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which swamped the South End, a mixture of lower-income housing, old industrial sites and two major draws — Seaside Park and the University of Bridgeport.

In contrast it was only last July that Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration announced — after considering rebuilding Bassick at its current West End location, then moving it to the former Hubbell factory on State Street — that the city would instead pay UB $6 million for 6.29 acres to build Bassick there.

Testani said Wednesday that the district had hoped to begin demolition on two existing UB structures on the new Bassick land around now, “when the weather broke.” He said he is eager to get agency sign-offs to ensure that whatever the district begins gets reimbursed by the state, so they do not have to turn to the city for additional funding.

At the same time, Testani had grounds not to wait on the flood mitigation project, from unease about higher price tags — “what something costs today may increase tomorrow” — to a desire to get students in newer facilities as soon as possible.

“Why have these students waiting for a new Bassick not only until we’re done constructing it but until this Resilient team finished their project, which could be three years and add another two for Bassick?” Brown said Wednesday. “We’re building it. We’re building it to Federal Emergency Management Agency standards so this is not a flood zone and at the same time Resilient Bridgeport can do their project.”

He and another member of Bridgeport’s school construction committee, Councilman Ernest Newton, both said the plans for Bassick included elevating that site to prevent flooding. In fact, Brown argued, that would have to happen even if Resilient Bridgeport was completed first.

Newton and Brown also argued that delaying Bassick will jeopardize the $90 million worth of state funds approved for the new Bassick in 2019. Newton said, “Time is of the essence. The state isn’t gonna hold off another two, three, four years.”

Whether or not the money would be in jeopardy was unclear. A representative with the state Department of Administrative Services, which oversees school construction and funding, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, helped secure the $90 million in aid for Bassick. On Wednesday he said he had been unaware of any issues involving that project and the effort to stop flooding in the South End.

“I’m anxious to see a shovel in the ground,” Stafstrom said. “When we secured the funding in 2019 we did so with the expectation this project was ‘shovel ready’ and a priority, not just in Bridgeport but for the state given the fact the current Bassick is in such deplorable shape.

“I’m happy to try to be useful in this discussion,” Stafstrom added.

With grant expiring, Bridgeport reapplies for state Bassick funds

BRIDGEPORT — Facing a tight deadline to obtain permits and break ground on a new Bassick High School before $90.8 million in state funding expires this summer, the city is reapplying for that aid to try and keep it locked in.

City Councilman Marcus Brown, co-chairman of Bridgeport’s school construction committee, said that group is following the recommendation by Connecticut’s school construction office to go through a grant process do-over rather than rush to begin construction.

“We’re in the process of reapplying,” Brown said.

Konstantinos Diamantis, head of Connecticut’s school construction grants and review office, urged the city do so because Bridgeport’s decision last year to relocate Bassick from the West End to the South End made the $115 million plan more complex than when the state awarded the $90.8 million contribution in mid-2019.

“For me it is a cleaner, more transparent approach to the project, which has had a substantial change,” Diamantis said Thursday. And, he added, “The other problem that exists, there is a two year statutory requirement the project proceed from the date of grant commitment. I believe that was in July 2019. ... I’m not sure they're going to be able to meet that requirement.”

That is because, in moving Bassick to the flood-prone South End, the city must elevate the property and take other measures to protect the future building, all of which require extra planning and permitting. And there are also questions about coordinating that work with a separate, federally-funded, state-managed flood mitigation effort for the neighborhood — Resilient Bridgeport — which has been planned for the last few years.

“I understand why they want us to reapply. I get it,” Brown said. “A lot of things have changed since we originally applied.”

Refiling for the $90.8 million means that money would have to be reauthorized by state lawmakers.

“They would resubmit to the office of school construction. It would go back on the priority list,” Diamantis said. “It would go back before the legislature and governor again.”

But Diamantis insisted that would not result in further delays for the new Bassick. “None of it stops the project from moving forward,” he said. “They can continue to work, get permits. ... What there is is a more accurate accounting of what the project is, where it is now located and what, if any, additional costs exist. It does not delay the project.”

This wrinkle comes 10 months after Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration announced it would spend $6 million to purchase 6.29 acres of the University of Bridgeport’s South End campus for a replacement Bassick. The current school is over 90 years old.

Also, as reported this week, Shante Hanks, a Bridgeport activist who, as the state’s deputy director of housing oversees Resilient Bridgeport, has urged the city first let that $52 million effort proceed. Resilient Bridgeport is supposed to break ground next year and be completed in late summer of 2023.

“There would definitely be some challenges with those two major projects going on at the same time,” Hanks told Hearst Connecticut Media during a public teleconference on Resilient Bridgeport Tuesday night. City school administrators were also listening in to that briefing and Hanks alluded to recent conversations and meetings with them about her concerns.

Diamantis on Thursday said he did not see a conflict between Bassick and Resilient Bridgeport, but that “nuances” need to be worked out: “There is a coordination that has to occur. ... I’m not concerned about it. We just need to make sure everybody's timing is in the same place.”

Ganim’s administration had originally considered rebuilding Bassick at its current West End location, then moving it to the former Hubbell factory on State Street before settling last year on the UB location. Bridgeport officials passed over the Hubbell site because of the need to remediate environmental contamination and the location was too tight to provide Bassick students athletic fields.

“I think it’s an excellent site,” Diamantis added of the UB property. “It offers them opportunities the original does not.”

State Rep. Steve Stafstrom helped secure the initial $90.8 million for Bassick. Told Thursday that the funds were potentially going to expire and the city was reapplying, Stafstrom said there is always a concern about having to go back through the legislative process and noted the current session of the General Assembly ends in early June.

“You’re probably pushing it off until next May or June before you get approval,” Stafstrom said. “Look, my preference is to move ahead with construction as expeditiously as possible. I’m slightly dismayed it has taken the city this long to get shovels in the ground. Certainly I’m willing to do whatever we have to at the state level to get the project built.”

Brown has faith in Stafstrom and the city’s other legislators: “I don’t have any worries in terms of funding.”

Kelvin Ayala is a downtown businessman and part of a group of Bridgeport activists and politicians that for months has been questioning the purchase of the UB land, claiming the deal was too rushed given the South End’s flooding issues. Ayala too expected Connecticut lawmakers will continue to help pay for Bassick, but said his reservations have been proven justified.

“I hate to be the ‘I told you so’ guy,” Ayala said. “By moving it to UB you were going to slow the process down. ... I strongly believe if all of the information and facts were on the table, that property at UB would not be purchased.”

Some worry wind and solar will gobble up forests and farms

Alex Brown

Massachusetts has installed solar panels faster than almost any other state as it seeks to reduce its carbon emissions. But some activists say the state’s transition to renewable energy has come at a cost.

“We have big multinational solar companies coming and cutting down forests,” said Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, a nonprofit in the state. “They’re not doing a good job of it, so they’re allowing erosion into wetlands. We’re trying to connect our forests so wildlife can move, and they’re in there fragmenting it.”

Similar conflicts are cropping up across the country, as the fast-growing wind and solar industries expand into new areas, driven in some cases by state mandates and incentives. In many places, locals are pushing back, saying that forests and farmlands should not be sacrificed in the fight against climate change.

Local activists say they support clean energy, but they want state regulators to be more thoughtful about where to allow development. The activists would like to see more solar projects on rooftops and previously developed sites such as parking lots and landfills.

But some industry leaders say large, ground-mounted projects are much more cost-effective, and the only realistic way for states to transition away from fossil fuels. They say “not in my backyard” attitudes threaten to stall important climate work.

Some state regulators have begun rethinking their wind and solar strategies to push projects away from undeveloped areas. But they acknowledge more conflicts are inevitable as the industry grows, and many states still lack a clear picture of the land use that will be required to meet their renewable energy goals.

In Massachusetts, 150,000 acres could be lost to renewable energy development as the state seeks to meet its climate targets, according to a 2020 report from Mass Audubon, a conservation nonprofit. Between 2012 and 2017, the group found that solar projects accounted for a quarter of the natural lands that were converted to development. In response to those concerns, Massachusetts leaders are seeking to reduce state incentives for building solar projects on ecologically sensitive lands.

“We have evolved to try to target areas that have the most benefits from an environmental land use perspective and also from a clean energy perspective,” said Patrick Woodcock, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. “We want to promote solar that doesn’t impair ecosystems and require tree-clearing. We’re starting to see that our land use is also part of [carbon] sequestration, and a vibrant forest ecosystem is a big component of that.”

ocal advocates and state leaders are hoping to see more solar development on rooftops, parking lots and landfills, which they contend also will benefit local solar installers instead of large corporations.

But some in the solar industry say the state’s approach is misguided, and its efforts to protect forests could hinder its renewable energy ambitions.

“Over the next few years in Massachusetts, the amount of solar installed in the state is going to drop off a cliff,” said Ilan Gutherz, vice president of policy and strategy with Borrego Solar Systems, which develops and maintains solar projects in 26 states including Massachusetts. “There’s almost no remaining land area in the state where we could reasonably site projects.”

Similarly, wind farms nationwide have long drawn some opposition for killing birds and bats and altering landscape views. As more projects spring up, regulators say it will be increasingly difficult to analyze and mitigate their collective impact on endangered species.

The growth in renewable energy projects also will require massive amounts of copper and other resources, even as environmental groups oppose mining proposals throughout the country.

‘It becomes very challenging’

In Hawaii, some renewable energy proposals have drawn criticism and protests from locals who feel the projects will disrupt fragile ecosystems or damage sites that are culturally important to Native Hawaiians.

According to Lance Collins, a lawyer who has fought several proposals on behalf of community groups, many renewable energy projects in Hawaii don’t comply with the state’s environmental protection laws.

“Unfortunately, because of the need for renewable energy, state agencies feel like they need to do whatever these companies want, because they have the money and they can make it happen,” he said. “It seems pretty clear that there’s a strong preference for approving these projects as quickly as possible, and that seems to override other things that are supposed to be considered.”

State officials say they have not bent the rules to accommodate clean energy projects, but they acknowledge that the state’s goal of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2045 will raise difficult questions.

“If we want to go to 100% renewable energy, what does that look like on the ground?” said David Smith, forestry and wildlife administrator with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. “How many acres of solar panels, how many wind turbines? It becomes very challenging.”

Smith’s agency has begun working with the Hawaii State Energy Office to address those concerns. Regulators are seeking a broad perspective on how the drive toward renewable energy will affect habitats and endangered species, rather than analyzing the impact project-by-project.

“We don’t have the big picture right now of what an at-scale rollout would look like,” Smith said. “We don’t want to get nickeled and dimed to death and then find we can’t get the permits out anymore before we get to 100% renewable.”

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest electricity company, worries that protest movements could stall Hawaii’s efforts to build more wind and solar projects. Opponents have used demonstrations and litigation to try to block development proposals in the state. A detailed Honolulu Civil Beat story laid out the company’s and several state lawmakers’ concerns that the conflicts could derail the state’s climate goals.

“Developers often face community opposition when proposing a project, and we’ve learned over the years that community outreach early and often is critical,” Shannon Tangonan, Hawaiian Electric’s corporate communications manager, said in an email to Stateline.

“But when developers are transparent and willing to engage with community members, it often produces mutually beneficial adjustments to the project and other positive results.”

Tangonan noted that the company now has specific community outreach requirements for project proposals.

Tough tradeoffs

Leaders in Maryland recently convened a task force to look at renewable energy siting issues, in response to concerns that solar projects were rapidly supplanting the state’s prime farmland.

“Increasingly, states that are embracing renewable energy run into opposition, and two of the biggest reasons are prime farmland being lost and also ecological areas,” said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. “We need to put a much greater focus on trying to steer these important projects to locations that are going to be more acceptable. The conflicts are growing and the need for innovative solutions is growing too.”

According to Grumbles, the state is increasing coordination between its regulatory agencies to examine possible issues earlier in the permitting process. It also wants to create incentives for renewable energy projects on developed land and encourage projects that allow the land to be used for other purposes, such as solar farms that are compatible with cattle grazing. Maryland officials are looking at buildings owned by the state government to assess the potential for rooftop solar canopies.

Still, some industry leaders say large-scale projects—not just rooftops—will be necessary to meet clean energy goals. They say renewable projects are claiming comparatively small amounts of land compared with other forms of development, and that tackling the climate crisis outweighs some local land-use concerns.

“Carpeting a state is not anyone’s goal and it’s not going to happen, but every state has suitable land,” said Edwin Moses, managing director of product development with Origis Energy, a solar company with projects across the country.

“Despite the emotions of trees vs. solar, the math is that displacing coal and natural gas is [more important]. Balancing the acres lost in trees vs. the acres lost from rising sea levels, the math is just overwhelming.”

In 2019, Maryland officials blocked an Origis solar project that would have razed more than 200 acres of trees in Charles County. The company said it could not comment on specific proposals, but opponents pointed to the important role forests play in filtering water and sequestering carbon.

“It’s easier to clear-cut a forest [for solar], but we’re already losing forests,” said Alison Prost, vice president of environmental protection and restoration with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a regional environmental nonprofit.

“If we don’t have forests acting as carbon sinks, and if we don’t have the filtration that forests provide, we’re going to offset the benefits of solar. It may be that we’re never going to have enough rooftops, but until somebody shows that they’ve exhausted the alternatives, it’s hard to accept people saying this is the only way we can do it.”

Industry leaders say that meeting clean energy goals won’t be possible without development on some controversial sites, but those challenges should prompt state officials, activists and energy companies to have thoughtful conversations about balancing their different concerns.

“You can’t get from where we are today to where the nation needs to go by building on already disturbed lands and residential rooftops,” said Tom Vinson, vice president of policy and regulatory affairs with the American Clean Power Association, an advocacy group for the renewable power sector. “If folks accept that premise, it’s a legitimate discussion to say what factors should drive where development takes place.”

Sean Gallagher, vice president of state and regulatory affairs with the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, said states with clean energy goals shouldn’t narrow their approach.

“You need both ground-mounted solar and rooftop solar, and you need a lot of both,” he said. “There will be more land that is used for renewable energy production, and inevitably there will be some conflicts. Our job as an industry is to be smart about development.”

‘We’re going to need them from somewhere’

The shift toward more wind and solar also will require massive amounts of raw materials, including copper, concrete, steel and rare-earth metals.

“Building all of this clean energy infrastructure is going to involve significant increases in extraction of these resources,” said Seaver Wang, a climate analyst with the Breakthrough Institute, a global research center that works on environmental issues. “It realistically is a necessary evil to achieve the clean energy buildout on the needed scale.”

In states such as Alaska, Minnesota and Montana, environmental groups have fought against copper mining projects that they say threaten to pollute important waterways and habitats.

Some groups, including the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, which opposes a mining project in Minnesota, acknowledge the importance of copper for renewable energy and other technologies. But they argue copper is abundant enough to avoid building mines near pristine waterways, and they’d like to see the industry improve its recycling. Experts say recycling more copper will help, but it won’t fully meet the resource demand created by renewable projects.

State officials say they evaluate such proposals based on environmental standards, without considering whether the resources will aid the clean energy transition.

“[Renewable energy] is not a consideration,” said Dan Walsh, chief of the Hard Rock Mining Bureau of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. “We review proposals against the standards that are established under statute.”

Wang said it’s unlikely that states will get more permissive about mining in order to enable their climate goals, but he said environmental groups may need to reassess their opposition to such projects.

“These are materials we’re going to need, and we’re going to need them from somewhere,” he said. “If populations in the U.S. or Canada keep saying no to all this mineral extraction, it ends up in poor parts of the world where there’s less regulation and labor standards. It’s shoving the environmental risks elsewhere in the world. If it’s slowing climate action, that carries its own environmental risks.”

New Britain's Energy and Innovation Park project coming back to life after pandemic took big toll on progress

Catherine Shen

NEW BRITAIN – As the state begins to return to a semblance of normalcy, New Britain’s Energy and Innovation Park project at the former Stanley Black & Decker site will also be coming back to life.

“It’s safe to say that the impact of the covid-19 pandemic had on a project of this magnitude was huge,” Mayor Erin Stewart said. “While it didn’t derail the project, it did end up being the reason for a brief lapse in progress.”

The estimated $1 billion energy and data center project began construction late 2019. But when the pandemic happened, the project took a hit.

It is still viable, Stewart said, but the project had to take a hard right turn, which includes finding new investors and a new production company that will produce the fuel cells. The city’s original partnership with Connecticut-based Doosan Fuel Cell America has dissolved and will now be working with Bloom Energy, a California-based company that develops clean, sustainable and affordable energy and has a large presence in Connecticut.

Mark Wick, a partner with EIP, LLC, the project’s developer, said the change in production companies is like changing a different battery brand.

“Their fuel cells operate differently but produces the exact same electricity and the exact same amount to the same place,” he said.

The basic schematic of the project is still the same. According to EIP, the first phase of construction will involve the renovation of two buildings on site and the installation of 20 megawatts of grid-connected fuel cells, which will make this the world’s largest indoor fuel cell installation.

Fuel cells run on natural gas to generate electricity but have very low emissions and increased energy efficiency. It will also become a critical backup power for data centers, which reduce capital needs and cost of operations.

Even under the best of circumstances, Wick said developing an energy project is a very time consuming and challenging process. Especially since this project will be built on an industrial site, rather than a greenfield site.

“The biggest issue for us has really been the pandemic,” Wick said. “We had our financing in place but covid-19’s impact was significant to our investment tax credit program. So we’ve had to make some changes, which required us to change vendors and investment partners.”

The various changes basically meant the project had to hit the restart button, from the permitting process through the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to hiring project engineers.

From an economic standpoint, the project is a driving force for future jobs and a very viable redevelopment opportunity, said Bill Carroll, the city’s director of Economic Development.

The park is expected to create more than 3,000 direct and indirect jobs over the next 20 years, according to the developer.

“If you go back just a few years, the idea of an energy and data center is so far away,” Carroll said. “But now it’s a hot topic discussion at the legislature to create a bill specifically for it. Now everyone is motivated to take a look at these data centers as economic drivers.”

But it’s also important to remember that a project like this is not like building houses and putting them together. “Something of this magnitude will be a long process anyway, so in a lot of ways we’re really not that much behind,” Carroll said.

The project is currently in the finalizing stages of securing a financing partner and Wick said the biggest thing holding up the project is the arduous permitting process with the state.

“There’s good reason for that because of the changes, but we’re optimistic,” Wick said.

Developers forecast construction could happen by the end of this year and the installation of the fuel cells by the end of 2022.

From the city’s perspective, Stewart said they are happy that the project was able to survive the pandemic.

“It took us longer to get there but the fact that it’s still happening is great,” she said. “We will do what we can to make sure it’s a smooth process.”

Grocery store, restaurant, 269 apts. proposed for Eversource-owned Newington property

Matt Pilon

Massachusetts developer is targeting nearly 25 acres of prime land fronting the Berlin Turnpike in Newington for a major mixed-use project.

Framingham, Mass-based Grossman Development Group recently submitted site plans and a special permit petition for 3333 Berlin Tpke. to Newington’s planning commission calling for the construction of 269 apartments — ranging from studios to three-bedroom units — and nearly 80,000 square feet of commercial and retail space on the front half of the property, closer to the turnpike.

The town has scheduled a May 12 public hearing for the so-called Meadow Commons proposal.

Proposed uses include a 43,228-square-foot grocery store, 22,780 square feet of general retail, a restaurant/brewpub and a gym, contained within five proposed buildings.

The apartments, planned for the back end of the property, would be contained inside three four-story buildings.

The entire project would be new construction. The property is the former site of a now-demolished training facility that Eversource — which still owns the land — relocated in 2016.

The utility parent and the town have been working since then to find a buyer or developer for the site. A prior purchase agreement between Eversource and Grossman was terminated just over two years ago, after Grossman could not drum up sufficient interest from potential retail tenants, according to town records.

“We have always felt strongly about the location, about the market and about the town of Newington,” Jeremy Grossman, senior vice president and principal at the firm, told HBJ on Friday morning.

He said his firm has the property under agreement once more with Eversource, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Grossman declined further comment about the proposed project, which would deepen his firm’s activity in Connecticut.

The firm has developed major retail and mixed-use projects in its home state of Massachusetts, as well as in New York and other states. Grossman Development is involved in a mall redevelopment project in Bozeman, Montana that will bring the first ever Whole Foods market to that state, according to the MetroWest Daily News.

The firm also worked on a Whole Foods-anchored project in Shrewsbury, Mass.

Grossman Development has at least one other Connecticut asset. In 2019, it acquired Middletown Plaza in Middletown for $16.3 million.

Sean Teehan contributed reporting for this story

Developers accelerate revival of Bristol’s Centre Square with plans for offices, apartments, retail

Liese Klein

flurry of recent development activity has accelerated plans for Bristol’s Centre Square, a centerpiece of the city’s downtown that has struggled for half a century.

This week, the city’s downtown committee discussed a proposal for a 30,000-square-foot office building to be constructed at the corner of Hope and Riverside streets on a currently vacant parcel. When approved, the plan next goes to the economic and community development committee with plans for a letter of intent to be signed by the summer.

The vote comes weeks after the city sold another Centre Square parcel to ByCarrier, a local developer who has signed a letter of intent to build three new structures with 90 market-rate apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail space. The project is in the design phase with construction set to start in spring of next year. 

The upcoming projects are part of a phased rollout of a new look for the Centre Square property, a 17-acre expanse that had sat in various stages of dereliction for decades. 

“We understand that a successful downtown, which Bristol has not had for a number of years, is going to be carefully constructed on a balance of day and night activities,” said Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu. “We need people living here, we need people working here, we need people coming here as  a destination.”

The area’s challenges started with the flood of 1955, when the Pequabuck River jumped its banks and ravaged the once-thriving business district. A mall built on the cleared site flourished briefly in the 1960s, before declining steadily until the city demolished it in 2007, leaving empty land at the heart of the historic downtown. 

Bristol Hospital was the first to build on the property, opening a 60,000-square-foot ambulatory care center at the corner of Main Street and Riverside Avenue in June 2019.

In a parcel next-door to the medical building, developers Wesley Cyr and Oliver Wilson are slated to break ground this summer on a mixed-use project called City Place, with 12 apartments and commercial space planned.

Interest in Centre Square has intensified in the last year, Zoppo-Sassu said, especially with more new projects planned for the areas around it. 

ByCarrier is springboarding from its recently completed Residences on Main project, a 32-unit, high-end building that has seen high demand for rentals, Zoppo-Sassu said. 

Other ongoing improvements include the restoration of a historic theater as part of the new Memorial Boulevard Intradistrict Arts Magnet School and a continuation of the city’s streetscaping and infrastructure improvements in the area, an investment of nearly $4 million so far. 

D’Amato Construction also intends to relocate its headquarters into the renovated Barnes building at Main and South streets, and plans are underway for a “green” at Centre Square for gatherings, farmers markets and outdoor performances.

It’s all part of a larger plan to bring life back to the area in sustainable stages, said Justin Malley, executive director of Bristol’s Economic & Community Development department.

“We are trying to develop downtown in a smart way and in a phased way,” Malley said. “It’s really a partnership. It’s clear that we have a vision, but the developers are working to meet that vision.”