Middletown waterfront development meets ‘the future of our community,’ says mayor

MIDDLETOWN — An ambitious and long-awaited master plan to redevelop Middletown’s waterfront and realize a decades-long vision to reconnect the city to its agricultural roots at the Connecticut River has been revealed to the public.

The city is located at the “big bend” in the Connecticut River at Harbor Park, where a Native American Wangunk statue towers over the Portland side in full view of the Arrigoni Bridge.

Middletown has been earnestly trying to create a more vibrant and diverse waterfront to meet a range of needs for at least 22 years. Mayor Ben Florsheim compared the process to a marathon at the start of Saturday PowerPoint Presentation at City Hall delivered by master planners Cooper Robertson.

The New York-based company was assisted by transportation planning and engineering firm Langan, and Karp Strategies, which focuses on economic development and community engagement.

The “multi-generational” project speaks to “the soul of Middletown and the future of our community,” the mayor said, adding that the revitalization will make it clear “why people moved here in the first place and the immigrants came here for the first time”.

The process incorporated over 1,200 feedback gathered from hundreds of community members through online surveys, social media, community workshops, pop-up events, door-to-door canvassing and other methods. , said Cooper Robertson.

Finalizing the master plan concept took years.

Earlier this year, city leaders gave the city the green light to buy the former Jackson Corrugated site at 225 River Road and three other lots on Eastern Drive near Connecticut Valley Hospital.

A year and a half ago, residents approved a $55 million bond that included $5 million for river redevelopment.

Costs associated with the vision have yet to be determined, however, land use director Marek Kozikowski said Wednesday. “The concepts provided are just concepts,” he said. “There is a lot more study, analysis and design that needs to be done with most aspects of the plan.

“With future support from the community, council and administration, the timeline could be around 10 years for improvements on city-owned land. It is much more difficult to assess a schedule for land owned by individuals,” he added.

Four distinct neighborhoods

The study area, located in a 100-year-old floodplain, includes a well field, steep slopes, wetlands and brownfield sites. Forty-four percent is restricted by environmental conditions, 70 percent is owned by government agencies, and the entire coastline is owned by the city, the slideshow says.

Planners divided the areas into four parts: Hilltop (Connecticut Valley Hospital), South End (between Silver Street and River Road and near the former community of Long River Village), Sumner Brook (near Walnut Street), and Riverside (between Main Street and Route 9).

Each neighborhood would be designed within a 5-minute walk of the river, said Cooper Robertson urban design director Mike Aziz, who led site tours on the Clinton Trolley from Harbor Park on Saturday.

The concept emerges

Planned are over two miles of riverside public amenities, over 50 acres of park space and seven miles of trails, a nature park including a four season recreation center; municipal garage, public art, playgrounds, bus and bike stations, mixed housing and a discovery and exchange centre.

One of the features is the “Riverbend Park”, which requires outdoor entertainment areas, an amphitheater and a circular promenade above ground by the river.

Center Street, a remnant of the urban North End lost during the construction of Route 9, will be extended to the water. Access will be from a 60 foot wide pedestrian bridge surrounded by attractive landscaping.

Bike lanes would be created along Silver Street, along with “more generous” landscaping on the west side of the roadway to “buffer some of those uses,” Aziz said.

“This would be a very user-friendly way to get to the riverside as part of a larger loop if you want to get downtown. if you want to take a little longer or take a bike ride on the boardwalk,” he explained.

Another idea is to create shared therapeutic or community artscapes for Connecticut Valley Hospital clients and the community. Additionally, the city is interested in the possibility of reviving the old Noble Hall, a 500-600 seat theater, but that would depend on the hospital administration, Aziz said.

“The building has good bones”, although it has fallen into disrepair, he added.

One person on the tour asked if other communities that have done similar redesigns are being consulted and if information is being shared as part of an “iterative learning process.”

Cooper Robertson, in fact, does just that with the Urban Land Institute reviewing case studies and gathering feedback from private developers, city officials and others a decade later to “return on lessons learned,” Aziz explained.

Site visit

The tour made its way past the former Long River Village habitation site, now an open field. All utility, sewer and water lines are already in place underground, Aziz said, and “this site is basically ready to go.”

There will also be a monument dedicated to the ancient community.

Another stop was the police station parking lot next to Attention to Detail, where applications for mixed-use private development qualifications are now reviewed. Whoever is chosen would be a city partner on a vision for public and private spaces, Kozikowski said.

Plans also include extending the Riverview Center, adjacent to the police station, across Route 9 and the railroad bridge into Harbor Park, to create an acre and a half of elevated park space.

Ideas include a restaurant “perched above” the Connecticut River, Aziz said. “No place in Middletown has such a view, sitting outside having dinner.”

River Road, closed to vehicles near the railway bridge for more than 20 years, is now accessible on foot. “We think there’s a real opportunity to make this one of the quietest spaces,” Aziz said.

After talking to those who live there, planners learned that residents enjoy walking along this peaceful landscape, he said. “It’s much more serene, bucolic on this side. We want to retain that character and that presence,” which would involve cleaning up to ensure a better view of the river.

Connecticut Valley Hospital is very interested in opening parts of its property to the public, Aziz said. The top of the hill, 160 feet above the river, he added, is already a great place to view the annual fireworks with stunning views of the bridge and the Arrigoni River.

The project involves “risk taking”

Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce chairman Larry McHugh, a member of the steering committee, praised the mayor for his “risk-taking”.

Countless people involved in the process “had the same thought process: looking back at the history of our shore which for decades has not been accessible”, he added. This development would create more jobs and significantly increase the tax base, McHugh said.

Kozikowski said he intends to make sure the different spaces aren’t seasonal attractions dependent on weather or temperatures: “How does this become a vibrant community all year round?”

This is exactly the sentiment expressed by the community at the start of the process, Aziz said. A planned indoor recreation center built at the Omo industrial site would fill the bill, with, perhaps, indoor climbing walls and a temporary ice rink, ideal for winter festivals, it said. -he explains.

“In a way, it could be a park that changes every season,” Aziz said, with amenities like kayaking on Sumner Brook, a playground, and then, in the colder months, it could “turn into something where you could have a snowman – do contests, for example.

People are encouraged to participate in future discussions and to voice their suggestions and comments, as well as in the upcoming legislative process. More information will be provided as the process progresses.

To watch the PowerPoint, visit middletownct.gov. To watch video of Saturday’s meeting, go to Middletown Connecticut City Government on Facebook.

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