My name is Keith Jackson and I’m a current resident of Bristol running on 24 years. I am particularly excited about the opportunity we have in front of us when it comes to revitalizing not only downtown, but Bristol as a whole. I’ve lived here since I was six, so I’ve grown up in Bristol, attended school in Bristol, played sports in Bristol, and am looking to start a family in Bristol.
Most of the friends that I grew up with have since moved out of town; however my wife and I have relatives here and plan on staying local. The general feeling I have, echoed by my peers, is that Bristol lacks three key elements in no particular order:
1) Places to shop
2) Places to eat
3) Places to be entertained
If we want to partake in any of these, we typically have to go to West Hartford, Plainville or Southington to meet our needs. It is particularly frustrating when we invite friends over from out of town and we have no place to take them. We usually end up cooking dinner and renting a movie, or we give up altogether and go to their towns where there is more to do.
That said, I cannot stress enough how important it is to strike the right balance with this development. Multi-use is definitely the way to go, but it has to be in the right proportion. My initial reaction to the original proposal was that there was too much residential and not enough retail. Also, I did not see anything expressly referring to entertainment which should be a key component of the project.
Although office space and residential do not directly address the elements I’ve outlined, having these components will ensure routine patronage to any shops and restaurants that are put in place. However, if the finished product is predominantly office/residential, I do not believe that will attract a lot of people to Bristol.
If this project is meant to make Bristol a destination, I feel there should be more retail space outside of Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, and the grocery store, all of which took up a significant percentage of the space allotted in the original proposal. With the right amount of retail and entertainment, word of mouth will spread that the area has something to offer which will encourage occupancy for any residential units put in place. If not implemented in the right mix and in the right order, we could easily end up with a lot of empty apartments with low demand.
When it comes to tenants, there will be strong pressure to fill empty spots; however I believe we need to resist the temptation of just putting in any business that is willing to pay the rent. When the economy improves, we don’t want to end up in a situation where we don’t have the room, because we didn’t wait for the right opportunities. Implementing in phases could help in this regard, so as the area improves, interest steadily increases along with the quality of potential tenants.
Some of the feedback I keep hearing from people is that
downtown will never be like route 6 – nor should it. We are not looking for fast food, Walmarts or dollar stores. Those can stay on route 6 where people make quick stops and move on. If we put in businesses such as nice family restaurants, clothing stores, maybe a small movie theater, etc., then people will have a reason to park, walk around, and spend a significant amount of time and money in the area. If people are waiting for a movie or some other event to start, they can grab a bite to eat, or shop around to pass the time.
I’m not suggesting we build anything on the scale of the Shoppes at Farmington Valley or Blue Back Square, because there is only so much Bristol can support based on its demographics and accessibility. Most of the patronage in the early phases will be people local to the area, however if it turns out to be successful we will start to attract people from other towns. The finishing of Route 72 and the hopeful return of commuter rail would only enhance our accessibility and chances for success.
As far as the businesses we target, some chains would be welcome, but I believe to distinguish ourselves from Plainville, or West Hartford, or Southington, we should seek out businesses that do not have a large presence throughout the state. People can go anywhere in Connecticut and find an Olive Garden, a Chili’s, or an Outback Steakhouse. But if they want a Bonefish Grill or a Maggiano’s Little Italy for example, they would come to Bristol, just like if people want the Cheesecake Factory, they go to West Hartford. The same goes for retail. If we put in a Kohl’s, people from Plainville will have no reason to shop here since they already have one locally. Anything we can do to stand out should be explored.
I also believe that downtown should be more than just a collection of stores, restaurants, and apartment buildings; downtown should be a place to gather. This makes the overall layout very important. We should resist the temptation of building on every inch of open space, as open greens and water features could make the area more inviting. Any events that could be held within downtown would only provide additional patronage for local businesses.
If this development takes off, not only will a lot of local jobs be created, the benefits have the potential to extend well beyond downtown. Over time, surrounding areas should improve, particularly towards the West End and along Riverside Ave. On top of that, real estate in close proximity should see improved demand.
All in all, I was very encouraged by the initial proposal, but I do believe there is much more feedback to be considered. This website is a great idea and will hopefully encourage the residents of Bristol to be engaged and help shape the future of downtown. Success will not be achieved overnight, but in time, and with the right approach, people will start to view Bristol as a town with a lot to offer.
I look forward to offering more specific ideas in the future, and welcome others to do the same.
Name: Keith Jackson