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Top 10 New Britain Events for 2015

The New Britain City Journal is looking back at the Top 10 events that happened in New Britain in 2015.

10. SOLAR ARRAY

On Aug. 4 a new 780 kilowatt solar array at the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir water filtration plant, that will save the City $2.2 million over the next 20 years, was turned on.

City officials, along with representatives from SolarCity including Patrick Corr, SolarCity director of East Coast Project Development and Katie Dykes, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection attended the event.

“I’m excited to mark the opening of this massive solar array, which is one of the largest municipal projects in Connecticut,” said Mayor Erin E. Stewart. “This will provide significant savings for taxpayers and help put New Britain on the forefront of communities that have embraced alternative energy sources.”

The project, as a whole, will total 1.6 megawatts of solar generation capacity, enough to produce at least 2.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity for the city each year. Estimates from SolarCity anticipate that the systems will offset carbon emissions by 49.7 million pounds. That’s the equivalent of reducing the carbon emissions of 4,797 cars over 20 years or enough electricity to power the equivalent of 195 homes each year.

9. MAIN STREET USA

Many remember the infamous Main Street USA street festival which filled the downtown streets with food and vending booths, music, entertainment, and fond memories.

This year the event came back to Walnut Hill Park on Sept. 19.

“We have about 50,000 people who watch the fireworks on 4th of July, so when you think about this event, we are closing in on 60 vendors and there are five different bands and two stages of entertainment. This kind of special event is huge and in my opinion probably the biggest event we have had in a decade,” said Erik Barbieri, acting parks and recreation director. “Social media has been blowing up with people who want to attend. This is going to be a massive success. We are excited.”

“Main Street USA celebrated the diversity of our city and I’m excited to revive one of the city’s signature events,” said Mayor Stewart.

The event featured two stages, a Kid Zone, helicopter rides, a beer garden, 25 vendors, food trucks and more.

8. $35 MILLION INVESTMENT

By early 2017 developers are hoping to open 169 upscale one and two bedroom condominiums at the Luxury Residences at Ellis Commons.

Developer Ellis Street Holdings LLC announced Oct. 28 that they will spend $35 million in order to renovate the 250,000 square feet at 321 Ellis Street (the historic Landers, Frary, and Clark building) into one and two bedroom condos.

“After sitting vacant for close to four decades, I am excited to see this unique building come to life again through the significant investment these developers have committed to and the new residents that will follow,” said Mayor Stewart. “This building will spring to life once again and become an active part of the City’s modern landscape.”

In the recent history this is the largest private investment development the City has seen.

The project is being done by Richard Brown and Michael Angelides, who are partners in Ellis Street Holdings LLC.

“We didn’t start with the intention of converting the use of this building. We thought that we could revitalize and keep the use the same. But after getting to know the building and the area, we realized a change would be beneficial,” said Brown. “To move towards a residential community here it is a very big undertaking. The building has great bones and a rich history.”

7. FRISBIES OPENS

Frisbies Ice Cream and Dairy Bar on Farmington Ave. opened on July 17 giving New Britain an ice cream store many desired.

Michael Frisbie of Hunter Development has been building multiple businesses on Farmington Ave. Frisbies Dairy Bar, is located in a Cape Cod Style building of about 3,000 square feet. There are 30 seats with a seating area also outside and music. Students from Central Connecticut State University helped in the design and several of the original booths from Guida’s Ice Cream are inside.

“Mike Frisbie has been a Godsend. I do not know where he came from,” said Mayor Stewart. “He came to New Britain and said ‘I want to invest here, what do you have for me?’, and I said ‘where do you want me to start?’”

6. COSTCO OPENS

Costco finally opened its doors on Hartford Road Oct. 15. Costco has built their new store on 15.49 parcels of land. Three holes on the Stanley Golf Course were moved to a part of Newington that the City purchased.

The City will receive over $10 million in taxes from the company in the next 10 years.

City officials have said Costco has a reputation of providing high quality jobs, in terms of benefits and pay. Forbes magazine has placed Costco at No. 3 on its top 10 places to work list.

Memberships start at $55.

5. STREETSCAPE/CENTRAL PARK

This project has long been in the making. Four years ago, the city received a planning grant to develop the Complete Streets Master Plan in an effort to make the downtown more attractive and pedestrian friendly. There are five phases to the plan, the central park renovation is phase three.

Some of the possibilities include having a temporary ice skating rink during the winter, food trucks, summer music concerts, and more.

The Common Council gave approval to buy an artificial Christmas tree to replace the Guida Family Tree in Central Park, which had become diseased and had to be removed. The new Christmas tree is 34-feet tall, 16-feet in diameter, have 4,500 LED lights, and it will have a five-foot tall silver star at the top. Presently it is at the park near the New Britain Police Department.

When work is completed more than a dozen new trees– along with a host of other new landscaping features–will be added to the area in and around Central Park.

4. BOARD OF EDUCATION COMPROMISE

BOE Members made an unprecedented move Nov. 16 when it announced it had reached an agreement that Sharon Beloin-Saavedra will remain as President until November 2016 and Nicholas Mercier will serve as the Vice-President and Elaine Zottola will serve as the Board Secretary.

In November 2016, Beloin-Saavedra will step down from her leadership role and Mercier will step in as President. Nicole Rodriguez will become the Vice-President.

Moving forward over the next few years, as long as there is a 5-5 split, the Board voted that every year, the President and Vice-President will alternate positions.

Since the Republicans held Council majority it could have taken control and done as it wished. Instead the board of education made this unique compromise to work together.

“Coming into tonight’s meeting there were various scenarios on leadership,” said Saavedra. “The two caucuses have come to an agreement. We discussed shared leadership. We believe in starting anew and starting a new page. At the end of this year I will step away from my leadership role. I’m pleased we came to an agreement and did not have to battle this out. It’s nice to start on a positive note.”

3. CTFASTRAK OPENS

The CTFastrak officially opened on March 28 as Gov. Dannel Malloy and other State and City officials attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Downtown New Britain Station.

CTfastrak is Connecticut’s new bus rapid transit service in central Connecticut.

The CTfastrak system provides direct service to and from Waterbury, Cheshire, Southington, Bristol, Plainville, New Britain, Newington, West Hartford, Hartford, East Hartford and Manchester with routes that take advantage of the bus-only CTfastrak roadway. The CTfastrak system provides a one-seat, no-transfer ride to many major regional employment, shopping and healthcare destinations as well as connections to the New Haven Line-Waterbury branch rail in Waterbury and Amtrak service in Hartford. A new 4.5 multi-use trail was built paralleling the CTfastrak bus-only roadway from New Britain to Newington Junction.

Ten new CTfastrak transit stations were built along the 9.4 mile bus-only roadway in Hartford, West Hartford, Newington and New Britain, partly along abandoned rail line and existing Amtrak rail line.

“With CTfastrak, Connecticut commuters will have another option to beat traffic as localities see new economic opportunities,” Governor Dannel Malloy said

2. NEW BRITAIN BEES

In early October the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs (“ALPB”) announced that the League Board of Directors had formally approved a franchise based in New Britain. The new team will begin play in April 2016 with the new name being The New Britain Bees.

The Atlantic League has completed its 18th season of professional baseball and includes teams in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Texas. Since beginning play, over 800 Atlantic League players — including more than 50 this year — have been signed by Major League Baseball organizations.

The Rock Cats will now play in Hartford and will be known as The Yard Goats.

Mayor Stewart said, “The Atlantic League and Frank Boulton have been wonderful partners throughout this process and we look forward to building a strong and mutually rewarding relationship with them over many years to come.”

Joe Klein, Executive Director of the Atlantic League and former general manager of the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers said, “You have a wonderful ballpark here. It was a park that wasn’t going to be used. We are looking for change to better ourselves. The match really came together in an extraordinary short time. I give everybody an A plus for their drive and initiative for putting the deal together.”

1. REPUBLICANS TAKE COUNCIL MAJORITY

It had been over 40 years since the Republican held the majority in the New Britain Common Council. This year Republicans not only took back the majority, but gained a Super Majority winning 12 of 15 seats.

Republican Mayor Stewart also won her second term easily 5,384 to 2,564 over Democrat John McNamara.

“Where do I even start. This is absolutely incredible. Thank you is all I can manage to get out right now,” said Stewart right after the results came in. “From the beginning we said that we were in here to set a new standard in what you should expect from your government and City. We’ve done just that.”

Stewart said Team Stewart took their message to every door in New Britain and the voters listened.

“We are breaking all sorts of records tonight. We are making history,” said Stewart. “The people of New Britain voted loud and clear. We will bring dignity and respect back to those offices.”

This was the first time in history New Britain has ever had a female Mayor win two terms.

“I’m not really shocked. I’m more appreciative that the people in the City of New Britain recognize what Mayor Stewart and her administration faced and have done over the past two years,” said Salerno. “This is a testament to our efforts for open government, transparency and accountability.”