Transportation
8:41 am
Mon June 13, 2011

Meriden Businesses Await High-Speed Renaissance

Connecticut’s multi-million dollar investment in a new high-speed rail line from New Haven to Springfield is supposed to spur economic development. And for some communities it will mean big changes. WNPR’s Harriet Jones went to talk to small business owners in Meriden about their hopes for the city as the new line comes through.

It’s a sunny day in downtown Meriden and Ron Dagan and I are walking on a street parallel to the nearby train tracks.

“We are walking on North Colony Street, heading north, towards the old Post Office which we now occupy as an engineering architectural firm – we’ve renovated it a year ago.”

Dagan employs 30 people at Luchs Consulting Engineers, which moved to Meriden from Hamden. He says his timing couldn’t be better.

“As you can see already, hopefully the first steps of revitalization. This coffee shop wasn’t here four months ago – no, at the beginning winter they moved in, and they’re taking care of the place, it’s a busy place and more and more pedestrian traffic will come this way, and there’s no question that more train users will help that process.”

Luchs renovated the old Post Office building which sits next to the current Meriden train station and was one of many vacant historic buildings in the city.

“It’s interesting – we were told that the Post Office was built so close to the train station because at the time before credit cards and so forth, everything was cash-based. They would literally bring the bags of money to the Post Office and from the Post Office and it’s walking distance. So it’s convenient today, but even more so in the past.”

“Well, this is it – it’s a very classic-type Post Office building – we definitely tried to maintain the old feel of the Post Office and maintain as many of the architectural features it had in the past.

Dagan says he believes strategic sites like this will be key for businesses in the near future.

“Today obviously we all drive our cars to work. I’m not so sure if that’s going to be the case in five, ten or twenty years. And being within walking distance from a train station is a major important advantage.”

But the new line will bring challenges too. The current train tracks couldn’t be more obvious in Meriden, running right through the center of town. At the moment, 12 trains run on this line each day. When the high-speed rail link is completed, that may rise to more than 50.

“The challenge will be to manage traffic as it crosses the tracks underneath here. Obviously every time a train goes by the gates come down and it disrupts traffic right on Main Street here. But you can see very soon that once it stops in the station which is right adjacent to here, sometimes the gates have to stay closed.”

“You can imagine with my building being right on the perimeter of this development it just kinda makes me very excited.”

Bruce Burchsted is standing next to the tracks, looking right at his business, Prentis Printing, over on the east side.

“You only need to look at a map and see just how important Meriden is in Connecticut in its location even with the current highways. Because they criss-cross right smack dab in Meriden from all directions. Tie that in with the rail and tie that with improved bus service, you have a wonderful transportation hub, right here.”

Prentis Printing sits on the edge of what’s now a 14-acre wasteland in the center of town. Part of Meriden’s planning for the new rail line includes turning this area into a park, right next to the train station. Something realtor Ross Gulino says will be a great amenity for potential new residents.

“There’s already an investment being made to reintroduce housing into the downtown area. It’s really needed, we’re very ready for it, and I personally am very excited, can’t wait – it can’t happen soon enough.”

He says the city already has key advantages.

"In Meriden as far as housing goes, you get a lot of bang for the buck. Many people who maybe can’t afford Fairfield County, or even New Haven at this point, will be able to move out into Meriden, still be able to be connected to Hartford-New Haven."

As well as residents, the new station could mean thousands more visitors for Meriden each year.

"My particular interest is how to cause these visitors to freely move about the district."

Sean Moore, President of the Greater Meriden Chamber of Commerce says he wants to find ways to make them linger.

"That means trying to understand how people will get to the train station, and what they will use on the way in. Perhaps pick up their cup of coffee, pick up their newspaper, or on the way home stop and have a beverage or dinner before they head home. So I think those are the opportunities that we’re very excited about happening."

Moore says Meriden has been planning for this opportunity for a decade already, and now, it’s high-speed renaissance can’t come soon enough.