Wednesday, September 14, 2016

One Too Many Turns Out on the Road

I’m sure I walked past the Reid & Hughes Building on Main Street in downtown Norwich after we moved here in the autumn of ’91 but before it was taken by the city in foreclosure for back taxes. I didn’t notice it then and why should, or would, I?

From what I’ve been told for decades by all kinds of folks on every side of the issue about what to do with it, the building ceased to be a destination and a department store long before it became another derelict address basically indistinguishable from all the other broken buildings in a downtown that people then, and now, cannot seem to drive through fast enough. 

In the twenty-three years the city has owned it, very little time, talent and money was invested, to save, repurpose and rehabilitate any aspect of a building that, as part of the Downtown Norwich Historic District, was included on the National Register of Historic Places thanks in no small part to the efforts of Dale Plummer. 

As unkind as the sentence reads, it's the one unavoidable conclusion if almost nothing else about the growing discussion in connection to the building that was crystal clear in the report the City Manager, John Salomone, offered to our neighbors, the men and women of our City Council, a week ago yesterday. 

I emphasized the “our neighbors” part in the previous sentence since passions about the building’s future, and/or lack of one will only get more heated even as a possible decision is made at this coming Monday’s City Council meeting. 

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we lose sight of how the “they” we choose for elected offices are always really “us” in discussions about decisions made by local governance. Processes should be abstract; those who make them and those who are affected by them must always be thought of as people because they are.

I stopped on the sidewalk in front of Reid and Hughes over the weekend just to remind myself, again, of its actual size and its appearance if not its condition. The discussions about the building at least for me sometimes obscure the physical fact that it’s only four stories tall, though the stories some people can tell about it go on a lot longer than that.

It’s certainly a part of a lot of people’s pasts. But how much of our collective future is not yet certain. As it is, there’s a history of missed opportunities, muddled decisions, apathy and indifference in Norwich. Remember that the Mercantile Exchange, The Wauregan and Artspace (among others) were all touted as projects that could turn around downtown. 

I mention that not to play the blame game — there’s plenty to go around among everyone from back then until right now — but to weigh against assurances that this time, the expense and work of reclaiming Reid & Hughes will prove, indeed, to be the charm. 

If wishing made it so, it might well be true but that, I fear, is one too many stories I’ve been told.  
-bill kenny        

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