Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And in the End, It Comes Down to Us

These are thorny days in The Rose of New England. As spirit-crushing and soul-wrenching as this Spring's budget formulation was, and how Draconian the reductions in programs and services seemed to so many, it will, we are told by city and state leaders, probably be even worse 'the next time around.'

We've spent decades chasing single bullet solutions--the rescue of the Wauregan Hotel, the construction of the Mercantile Exchange and the rehabilitation of the Otis Library to name just three. We have come to the place where the road and the sky collide. We cannot afford to stay where we are and if we don't move forward we'll fall farther behind.

Large investments of public money on public projects that failed to attract any private capital to leverage these capital improvements and expand into the private sector, leaving our city with pockets of pretty buildings surrounded by broken dreams and empty storefronts.

Last Saturday, at the Economic Development Bond Issue Workshop in the offices of the Norwich Community Development Corporation on Main Street there were less than a half dozen 'members of the public' in attendance-not because we who live here didn't know about the presentation, but because we didn't care.

Sixteen minutes after the first news story was posted on line by a local reporter, who sat alongside of me at the meeting, the trickle of 'this will never work' comments started to appear and continued, until by day's end, it was a flood.

All but two were from people most certainly NOT at the meeting (I believe) but that didn't stop them from having a (negative) opinion on a proposal about which they knew very little. A bigot, I'm told, is someone who slams his mind in your face. There's a little too much of that going around for my taste.

Between now and when this proposal is presented to the City Council for their consideration to place it on the November ballot for a public vote (it looks like there will be three separate questions for the three principal components) each of us needs to get smart on what this proposal is and what it is NOT.

I don't recall hearing the word 'hope' uttered once during the entire presentation last Saturday because (wait for it) HOPE IS NOT A PLAN. In the course of months of work and research, a team of people from a variety of fields to include real estate, retail, population trends and a half dozen other disciplines, examined prices and costs for infrastructure development, code-compliance assistance, utilities hook-up costs and reduced every aspect of their proposal to a simple and single question, what is in this for Norwich?

In 1934, in the depths of the Depression in Norwich, there were fifteen retail bakers, forty-six barbers, five billiard parlors, forty-two confectionery and ice cream retailers, eleven retail grocers, twenty-seven taverns, eight hotels, four theaters, thirty-two restaurants and an elevator manufacturer. A lifetime later, how much of ANY of that is still here, where did it go and why?

Don't let the price tag on this development proposal, about thirteen million dollars, frighten you-make sure you listen to what the return on investment is projected to be (and bear in mind, the projections are using 'worse case' numbers not pie in the sky, we'll be farting through silk, statistics) and then do your own math.

We all know the cost for failing to create healthy economic development and growth in Norwich--just look at the City Budget. Closed schools, eliminated programs, and a Grand List that has flat- lined. Seventy-five percent of the Norwich tax base is residential and that share is growing-NOT good news for anyone.

There's no use in looking to Hartford or to Washington-they have troubles of their own. The only people we can rely on are one another. If you've been wondering what you can do to help yourself, your family and your neighborhood, you're about to find out.
-bill kenny

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