A ‘geologic time’ line
If we were to produce an aphorism that describes West Haven, we would write thus: West Haven does things in geologic time.
No matter what this issue, what the project, what the matter before the leaders of West Haven, it takes months, years, decades, to get things off the drawing board and into reality. This is particularly true of economic development projects – just ask any developer. But it goes beyond that to even municipally implemented plans.
The prime example, of course, is the project of several iterations at lower Elm Street on the harbor. Announced in September 1997 as the “Water Street Project,” it went through several name changes, including “West River Crossing,” and “The Haven,” along with several changes in scope, from an area that extended from the tracks on First Avenue to Main Street to the harbor, and then abbreviated to what it is today. Before that, it was years before anything came about on Sawmill Road.
Now we have a municipal project that is on the back burner again, the Arts Center. Announced in the mid-2000s, the West Haven Arts Center was to be an anchor to revitalize the city’s dying Center Business District. It was hoped exhibits, shows, concerts, and other events would serve to bring people into the Center, and bring about a renaissance harkening back to the days when retail shops dominated the area.
As we said, the Arts Center was/is expected to draw people to the Green and Center and revitalize downtown. There was a time when it was a booming district, but bad decision-making (which was criticized at the time) doomed merchants and business owners. The administration of then-Mayor Azelio Guerra was at loggerheads with the State of Connecticut over the rental of courtrooms located in City Hall. Eventually, the feud resulted in the city losing the court to Milford, and those areas, built as courtrooms, languishing for years before anything was done.
The result was the traffic that came into downtown and supported local businesses dried up. Before long, business that had been around for decades closed shop and were never replaced.
The Arts Center was to remedy that situation – almost two decades ago. The arts were to be a magnate for the public to come back. The purchase of the former Masonic Temple on Center Street was the first step. Donations, grants, and other gifts were to fund the rest of the project. The building was gutted, and some design changes made, but nothing has happened on the site in more than a decade.
Now money earmarked for the project through the federal pandemic funds is being urged to go elsewhere. There are good arguments to do so. But this means that the Arts Center will have to wait again for something to come along: a grant, a State Bond Commission issue, or something else, all in the sweet by and by. Meanwhile, the building languishes against the elements.
This newspaper supported the Arts Center when it was announced, and still support the project, but it has been ignored, except for when it was a good political issue. Once again, something that is to be for the good of the community, for its economic development as well as its quality of life is relegated to the “sometime in the future” file.
We understand the need for pandemic money to be used on more pressing projects without putting a burden on the taxpayers; but a decision must be made about whether the city will see this long-standing project completed, or we move onto utilizing the building for something else. Kicking this can down the road is no longer an option, we are running out of road.