New Britain City Journal

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Top 10 New Britain Stories of 2016

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Each year the City Journal recaps the biggest stories affecting New Britain in the past year. Here are our Top 10 for 2016.

  1. CITY SLOGAN

City Journal readers had the chance this year to vote for a new slogan for the City.

The winner was “Experience the New”.

It received over 50 percent of the votes. “Connect and Bee Inspired” had 25 percent, “History. Honey. Home.” had 17.5 percent and “Because Old is Boring” got 7.5 percent.

The unveiling of the new slogan will be done at the New Britain Museum of American Art on Jan 24, 2017.

“It is a good one,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “We want to thank everyone who voted and participated. This is another step in re-branding the City and creating a new image for us.”

The logo will go on a variety of materials such as website, social media, hats and t-shirts, and banners around the City.

  1. TILCON PLAN

There has been much controversy concerning a plan announced in February about a new Tilcon proposal that calls for the City to lease 131.4 acres of Zero Piddle Pass located in Plainville, but owned by the City to Tilcon. Tilcon would be blasting the quarry for the next 40 years. The plan would move the blasting zone further away from where they are now and would have a 1,000 foot buffer. The blasting nearby would immediately cease.

If the plan is disapproved, Wall said Tilcon would still have at least 30 years to work at the present quarry. The new quarry would prepare the land for a reservoir and surrounding land for reforestation.

Many concerns have been raised on destroying the land and how it will affect the water supply. This year several water alerts were also given as the City had a water shortage and was forced to buy water.

Studies are being done as this topic will be ongoing.

  1. ELECTION/CHARTER REVISION

Election Day, Nov. 8, brought a few changes and certainly caused some disagreements.

Most of the Democratic incumbents retained their seats. However, in the in the 22nd District. Republican Dr. William Petit beat longtime incumbent Betty Boukus. Boukus sadly passed away shortly after the election.

During the summer there were two primaries that saw Lucian Pawlak beat Michael Trueworthy in the race for Democrat Registrar of Voters and Theresa Gerratana beat Sharon Beloin-Saavedra for the endorsed Democrat in the 6th District.

The two political parties also disagreed on three charter questions.

Question 1 and 2 which dealt with changing the Mayor’s term and the Tax Collector’s term from 2 to 4 years did not pass.

Question 3 dealt with a number of issues including changing the year when the Council can vote on raises. There were 8,069 yes votes for Question 3 and 6,764 votes for no.

  1. RATING UPGRADES

After a few year of low bond ratings, both Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Fitch upgraded New Britain bonds in 2016.

On January, S&P announced a positive upgrade to New Britain’s bond rating, increasing it to “A+” with a stable outlook—the highest bond rating the City has received from the agency since 2008.

In October, Fitch Ratings upgraded the City’s general obligation bond rating from “BBB+” to “A-” and improved the outlook from “negative” to “stable.”

In their report, Fitch noted that “revenue raising measures, significant cost cutting efforts and one-time savings from a debt restructuring have supported recent positive results and improved reserve levels.” The City’s reserves are now at “sound levels” and will aid the City during future economic downturns, according to the Fitch report.

“This is further evidence that the steps we have taken over the last three years to bring stability and strength to our finances have had a real impact on how others view our ability to repay debts and grow in the future,” said Mayor Stewart. “It has been a collaborative effort to make this happen: from the Finance Department to our labor unions to our Economic Development division. We’ve found ways to reduce costs, attract developers, and grow our local economy.”

  1. CONNECTICUT COALITION FOR JUSTICE IN EDUCATION FUNDING (CCJEF)

In September, Connecticut Superior Court judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled that the state’s education funding system is irrational and unconstitutional. In 2005, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) filed a lawsuit against the state contending that the current formula used to fund school systems is not adequate for cities like New Britain, which has large amounts of poor students. Moukawsher ruled that the state must overhaul its education system and come up with a new funding formula within 180 days to ensure the state’s poorest school districts have resources to provide an adequate education. The State has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

“We are looking at finally a call to revamp the ECS formula. There have been a lot of people calling for this for a very long time,” said Mayor Stewart. “The problem is, there hasn’t been the political will to do it. There are lot in the legislators who are not willing to lose money for their districts to benefit the greater good. The fact that there will be a court ruling that says it has to be redone and revamped to a way that is equitable across the entire state is a victory for us.”

  1. NEW BUSINESSES

Many new businesses like Krispy Krunchy Chicken, General Dollar, Hot Harry’s Burritos opened in 2016, but none was as big as a plan by Xenolith Partners, LLC.

A developer was announced for the site of the old New Britain Police Department known as Columbus Commons in Xenolith.

In October plans were announced that there will be two buildings shaped liked an L. Parking will be under the bridge and some on-site. There is 21,000 square feet of commercial retail space on the first floor.

Building A will break ground by fall of next year and it will take a year to construct. It should open up in the winter of 2018 and then it may take a year to fill the building. Once this is complete, the second building will be built.

Apartments will be market rate or workforce housing. Workforce housing will be based on paying about 33 percent of your annual income. The average rents in downtown New Britain will be close to $1,000.

In September, the sale of the former St. Thomas Aquinas Building at 74 Kelsey St. for $80,000 to Chrysalis Center Real Estate Corporation was announced.

Chrysalis will spend $6 million in rehabilitating and refurbishing this building. The plan calls for creating 36 units altogether. Of those, 17 will have one bedroom and 19 will be two bedroom.

Other openings included getting a new beer manufacturer in Alvariun Beer, AFC Urgent Care opening at the former Taco Bell building and Grand Pizza on Main Street.

  1. NEW SUPERINTENDENT

On Feb. 22 a crowd of over 200 people stood up and applauded as Nancy Sarra walked into the lecture hall at New Britain High School before the final approval of being named new superintendent of schools.

Sarra took over the position vacated by Kelt Cooper.

“I’m humbled and honored by tonight’s show of support,” said Sarra. “This turnout is a testament to our relationship. To our collective spirit and collective strength and raising New Britain’s children all together. The most important thing is for all of us to walk in stride with focus and purpose knowing we are in pursuit of excellence one student at a time. One staff member at a time.”

Having worked in the district for the last 20 years and also having grown up in New Britain, Sarra is one that knows the city and schools well. She has been a teacher, principal and for the past three years, the Director of Teaching and Learning, where she built and re-built an infrastructure of district-wide processes and procedures to better meet the needs of all staff and students.

Sarra went on to win the City Journal’s New Britain Person of the Year.

  1. DOWNTOWN STREETSCAPE

It rained on May 3rd, but it didn’t stop people from coming out to see the newly refurbished Central Park.

After over a year of changes at the park which included making it larger, new landscaping, removal of trees, new granite sitting areas, newly cleaned monuments, and more, Mayor Erin Stewart held a re-dedication ceremony asking residents to “take ownership of this park”.

“It’s a much larger park than it was. It is 33 percent bigger,” said Stewart. “It is also going to be a lot brighter at night. When those lights are turned on it will probably look like a runway. One of the requests we had, was to make it well lit.”

The park had new bricks, new benches and it featured food trucks, a Farmer’s Market and music during the summer months.

“We talked a lot about this project. We came up with a European style plaza,” said Mark Moriarty, public works director. “The design complimented the monument. We all knew we were building something special, but we didn’t know how special. I think we made a decision that people over a hundred years ago would be proud of.”

A Transit Oriented Development project for the areas around CTFastrak was also completed this year showing ways for vast improvements in the City.

  1. NEW BRITAIN BEES

New Britain had a new baseball team in 2016 and the team opened play on April 21. A crowd of 4,617 the New Britain Bees opened up it’s inaugural season.

“Thank you all for joining us tonight,” Mayor Stewart told the crowd after throwing out the first pitch. “We are so happy to have dedicated fans and an awesome team that is going to be a great addition to the City of New Britain.”

“We are back in town,” said Bees Manager Stu Cliburn who caught the Mayor’s pitch. “It’s great to see so many people come out for opening night. We have a beautiful stadium. Let’s enjoy baseball here in New Britain.”

The game for the Bees didn’t go as planned as the York Revolution scored twice in the first inning winning the game 4-3. However, the first pitch thrown in Bees’ franchise history was a strike.

New colors and names appear across the stadium as well as in rugs in and around the offices. New Britain Stadium played host to the Bees’ 70 home games and special events.

The City’s former team the Rock Cats now known as the Hartford Yard Goats, played none of their games at their new home in Hartford in 2016.

  1. ALL AMERICA CITY

The City of New Britain has once again lived up to its Hard Hittin’ Slogan. After an energizing weekend presentation in Denver, CO by community stakeholders focusing on the city’s accomplishments in raising healthy, successful children, the National Civic League in June designated New Britain a 2016 All-America City.

One of only 10 communities nationwide to be so honored, the prestigious All-America City Award (AAC) celebrates and recognizes neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, counties, tribes and regions nationwide that engage residents in innovative, inclusive and effective efforts to tackle critical challenges. A team of 11 New Britain stakeholders from the government, business, education and non-profit communities has been preparing for a month to compete against 19 other AAC finalists, taking off on the theme “New Britain: None Better.”

“This is another major feather in New Britain’s cap and representative of so many wonderful things happening here in our community,” said Mayor Stewart. “This prestigious award validates our hard work and will prove vital moving forward as our community continues working together to open new doors of opportunity for every resident. I want to congratulate the Coalition for New Britain’s Youth and our entire Denver delegation for doing a marvelous job telling New Britain’s story.”