Citizens are often reminded of what could have been, and now what will become of, the once-glorified downtown project of Greenway Commons. It’s been over a decade since anything, but weeds have flourished where a major development promised retail shops and luxury condos.
Recently I interviewed Edward Pocock III, former town council chairman and retired high ranking police official who had plenty to say about the project spurred by the Meridian Development firm of New York.
“Unfortunately for Meridian and, for that matter, the people of Southington, the economic bottom fell out in 2008, just as the state legislature moved to pass a special taxing district to offset the cleanup costs,” recalled Pocock.
He added that Meridian firm promised to change the blight of the former Ideal Forging and Pexto factories into an unpolluted site complete with residential condos and retail, shifting our town’s center a bit west. That was 2005.
“Meridian waited for the economy to improve, and we waited for the same, but the great recovery never came with the same fervor that the great recession did,” said Pocock, now the president of a foundation that supports national police training. “The 14-acre site was provided funds for cleanup. Some folks believe that Meridian needs to finish what they started, but these folks need to rethink their position, since the town for its part has completed the heavy lifting that allows new development to take place on this site,” he added.
Pocock adds that the rubbing point of limited residential rental units in the Greenway Commons area, where the plan in 2005 provided for no rental units but says the rental units on Center Street might have been a good starting point for Greenway.
“Another concern was the outlay of the original plan where High Street and the walking trail splits the property into three segments,” noted Pocock. “The walking trail isn’t going anywhere, and the elbow section of High Street could be abandoned and replaced with a curved road linking South Center with Mill Street, allowing a natural expansion of downtown.”
The former candidate for state office said he is aware that Meridian is stuck with the property and obviously trying to find a way out, finding a developer willing to construct something that would satisfy the critics and the pessimists who are reminded of the emptiness every time they drive past.
Getting the town and Meridian to the table and have a discussion on the issue is something Pocock recommends. “If Meridian cannot or will not work in collaboration with the town, then it is imperative that we find a developer or developers who will,” states the former town councilor known for quick wit and problem-solving techniques.
“What we can’t see happen is a ‘Death to Smoochy,’ an attitude toward Meridian Development Partners while we pave the way for consolations that were closed to Meridian, but will be open to other developers once “Smoochy” is out of the way. It’s kind of unfair dealings that hurt everyone, so it’s time to end the finger pointing and start the conversation as to what is next for Greenway Commons,” he suggested.
Residents have asked why the town doesn’t purchase the land from Meridian and use for parking or a park. “That’s never going to happen according to a number of councilors. Town Manager Mark Sciota admits not much is going on presently with the topic, but has noted in the past it appears the next step is basically up to Meridian.
Pocock concluded, “It’s important to be reminded that these types of discussions are never easy, but they are increasingly more difficult when folks dig in their heels and defend principle, rather than try and find a way around the ego mountain to accomplishing a goal.”
It’s like nobody with authority wants to talk about this mess. In the meantime, Meridian hires local companies trim the weeds and repair any fence problems. It’s not enough for the locals who were promised something big, something impressive and something thought to truly revitalize downtown.