“Main Street” can be improved in ways that not only bring economic vitality but also preserve the history and community of an area such as Collinsville.
That was the overarching message from presenters at Canton’s Annual Town Meeting Wednesday night as speakers told the approximate 40 attendees about the Connecticut Main Street Center program as well as a “Town Commercial Center Plan.”
“We believe very strongly that it’s not just about bringing business," Economic Development Agency Chairman Kevin Jackson said. “It’s taking care of the entire community.”
Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker, Associate Director at CT Main Street Center, presented a broad view of the program, which selectmen voted to join last a fall.
The non-profit utilizes a preservation-based strategy and the unique environment of each community when coming up with strategies, she said.
She also spoke to the importance of taking advantage of numerous resources and the involvement of area residents, business leaders, officials and others and the innovation of business owners.
“The strength of local entrepreneurship is something that absolutely essential to the strength of a Main Street program,”Parsons-Whitaker said.
(See the attached .pdf for the town meeting presentation).
Eric Jackson, member of the Collinsville Historic District Commission, talked about Collinsville’s past, beginning with the Collins Co. and its resilience through the years with events such as the Flood of 1955 and the 1966 closing of the factory doors. He also mentioned the importance of neighborhoods, the river and historic designations in 1977 and 1988.
While Eric Jackson did mention a few concerns such that the village maintain its “rough edges,” industrial feel, and balance of business and residential needs, the said the commission support what they’ve seen so far.
“THE CHDC commission is totally committed to working with the main street program and what they want to do in our village,” he said.
Amy Parchen, a member of the Canton EDA, spoke to her past experience with the Main Street program in Lancaster, Ohio. The resources the program brings, along with local partnerships, can bring dramatic results, she said.
“Seeing what can be done through historic preservation as economic development is powerful,” Parchen said.
Town planner Neil Pade talked about the “Town Commercial Center Plan,” a concept the town developed in applying for up to $500,000 in state money through the Main Street Investment Fund Program.
Largely drawing on past studies the preliminary plan lays out improvements in parking, signage, sidewalks, lighting, traffic calming measures and more, Pade said. (See the concept plan attached to this story).
Pade mentioned the need to further slow down and reach some of those in the average 12,000 vehicles a day that come through Collinsville on Route 179.
Changes in parking and pedestrian usage can really signal the traffic and improve safety as well, he said.
“We’re looking to take that and make it really clear this is pedestrian dominated area,” Pade said
He and other speakers also mentioned the high trail usage and the positive impact and safety concerns it brings.
On a September day in 2012, volunteers counted 480 non-motorized trail “movements” at Bridge and Main in just two hours.
“It’s an asset and a benefit but it needs to be managed,” Pade said.
At the same time, walkability and education, such as signage are crucial, he said. Too many people come to town for the trail or Farmers’ Market and never realize what it has to offer.
“The fundamental purpose here is to try and connect River Street and Main Street to all that activity,” he said.
Pade also briefly mentioned the traffic light the state department of Transportation is working on for Bridge and Main Street. In December of 2010 residents approved a $156,000 grant for the light.
Officials hope to put the work out to bid this year.
The light was one of the suggestions in the November 2008 report from the temporary study committee on Pedestrian and Vehicular Safety.
Resident Larry Minichiello spoke to that report.
Minichiello, a member of the safety committee, said it's gathered too much dust.
“Really nothing has been done in terms of that study,” he said. Minichiello also asked if the plan was separate from the main street effort and could be done at the same time as other improvements.
Officials said they are separate, if related, projects and Eric Jackson, who also served on the safety committee, said he felt the Commercial Center Plan addresses many of the safety suggestions.
“The wheels turn slowly but hopefully they do turn,” Eric Jackson said.
Several other residents offered input as well.
Jim Keane said he was really surprised that no one talked about the Collins Co. complex, calling it the elephant in the room.
“Collinsville is here because the Collins Co.,” he said. “We can not plan for Collinsville without some sort of resolution for that situation.”
Kim Hathaway, owner of the Blue House: Nice Old Things on Route 44 said she loves Collinsville and “applauds” the program. She also, however, said she felt the town Green area on Route 44 has been largely forgotten and changes are needed to enhance the walkability of the area, which features as many as 14 small businesses including restaurants, clothing and furniture stores.
“It’s impossible to go back and forth in between the stores in this great little nest,” she said, asking that the ideas gleaned for Collinsville be expanded to the rest of town.
Carol Ackerman of Carol and Company said although she’s been there 10 years in August, she consistently hears from residents who are unaware of her Collinsville shop. As efforts progress, involving a wide array of people is key, she added.
“We need to get more people involved and active to make this work,” he said.
Shawn Cole, owner of The Yoga Center of Collinsville asked several questions, including the availability of resources for a growing business such as his.
Parsons-Whitaker said it’s early in the process but added that the state is offering several programs the partnership can tap in to.
“There is a small world of opportunity for entrepreneurs and small businesses,” she said.