NEW BRITAIN - Support of a walking downtown - with bustling restaurants, art studios and other attractions - is one of the major goals the New Britain Downtown District should be pursuing, according to a nonprofit organization that helps revitalize urban centers statewide.
“Trying to get more housing downtown is critical,” said Patrick McMahon, chief executive officer of CT Main Street. “Maintaining a downtown’s historic character where you have restaurants, housing feeds the street and it’s the spending power.”
McMahon spoke Monday morning at the Downtown District’s annual meeting in the Community Room of the New Britain Police Department.
The city is on track to make improvements, McMahon said, but more focus needs to be on bringing restaurants downtown and using historic buildings that provide an “authentic” backdrop for revitalization, he said.
“Historic preservation is economic development,” McMahon said. “What’s more authentic? Walking in downtown New Britain or going to the Berlin Turnpike?”
The Downtown District supports the development of downtown as a business-friendly and visitor-friendly location.
In the past few months, the city has seen two new restaurants move in downtown, KC’s On Main and The Kitchen, the latter of which will have a formal grand opening Thursday, and Five Churches Brewing on Arch Street are all good starts to increasing the number of places people from out of town can eat, he said.
“The more restaurants you have, the more people will come,” McMahon said.
McMahon also said the ongoing “retail apocalypse,” as online shopping decimates brick and mortar retailers, can be a boon for the city if small businesses are willing to go the extra mile to attract customers.
“It has to be an experience,” McMahon said of shopping small businesses downtown. “There has to be great customer service and it has to be an experience for shoppers.”
The city is also making other improvements including a “Bees Across New Britain” project, which will allow businesses and organizations to sponsor 6-foot-tall bees that will be painted by artists and distributed throughout downtown and other parts of the city.
The prototype of the bee has been produced and is now being scaled to the proper size, said Stephen Hard, executive director of the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance.
“We’re expecting the bees to be delivered in July and they will take a month to six weeks to be painted,” Hard said. Visitors will be able to view the bees when they are displayed inside and outside throughout downtown.
The city’s Public Works Department is in the early stages of creating a public education campaign on littering to help keep the downtown area clean, said department Director Mark Moriarty.
“Coming to downtown has to be a people positive experience,” Moriarty said. “Trash is something we have to keep up on and change the culture.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.