The worst blight in West Hartford

On the far side of the railroad tracks, where not even McDonald’s could survive, is a vast wasteland that is, amazingly, still part of West Hartford. It’s full of auto shops, dollar stores and other places that barely hang on. Most of us go there only when we need to track down the post office on Shield Street for some reason. It’s not on the normal travel path of most town residents.

The most obvious symbol of neglect is the vast 1960s relic t is recalled by many as an Ames or a Caldor but apparently started off as a Star’s Market, according to The Caldor Rainbow blog. Now it’s no surprise that a massive retail store there failed as nearby Hartford neighborhoods decayed.  It’s a crummy spot, really, for retail at least, since it’s hard to reach from the highway and off the beaten path in West Hartford, too.

What is less easy to understand is why this area isn’t a higher priority for the town government to revitalize. Surely in this much-desired town, the area presents a wonderful opportunity for a small industrial park, a business incubator area or some kind of recreation destination (indoor skiing! the world’s biggest bowling alley! some damn thing!). This is no small matter because the whole area can’t possibly bring in much property tax revenue, but if the town could kick start it somehow, there could be new jobs and a bigger tax base that follow.

I’m curious to know why nothing is done, year after year, about so obvious a problem. Has town hall forgotten this whole area?




Filed under Ames, blight, Caldor, Elmwood, redevelopment, revitalization, Star's, Town government, vacant buildings, West Hartford, West Hartford economy

14 responses to “The worst blight in West Hartford

  1. That Caldor Building has such bad roofing and leaking problems which is why it has never been able to be rented out..

    I agree with you totally about that area being left to wither and die and I know there had been plans to make that West Hartford’s “china town” or “Asian Gateway” because of all of the Vietnamese, and Korean stores, plus of course A Dong. I don’t know what happened to that idea.

    You might ask Rob Rowlson why that area has been so neglected. People like Mark Sinatro wanted to see that area developed into a “Business Enterprise Zone” and bring in technology businesses that would have small impact on town resources, but bring in more revenue. That idea was summarily rejected as far as I know.

    It is most likely that so much energy has been put into the Center (which will probably be shifted now to Bishop’s Corner) that the area you speak of still will be neglected… I think it is a huge opportunity that has been overlooked.

  2. Marty

    WH is in the equivalent of a multi front war, 1st is the Center, which nattering nabobs aside, is pretty well underway and should investment vs. return-wise be stellar. Next is Elmwood, which again, nattering nabobs aside is making tremendous strides and I think is poised to become a great, pedstrian friendly area to dine/shop/live, etc. Bishops Corner should be 3rd b/c based on its location it could be much more productive business-wise, and has the potential to be a much nicer area in terms of appearance. One could make the same case for Corbin’s Corner but even w/ lousy aesthetics, it’s going to be busy enough to not really need too much attention by the town. The town has made considerable efforts to address smart development on Newington Rd, as well as on New Park with home improvement businesses, all of which are making progress in large part to town and elected officials who know what they’re doing, Rob Rowlson included. The caldor/south st./new britain ave area should be a focus of the town, but not if it means taking our eye off the ball in these other areas.

  3. Rick Liftig

    A question that must always be asked in these situations is, “does the market drive development? Or, does development drive the market?” IOW, If you build it, will they come?

    Retail is very fickle. Think of the Berlin Turnpike about twenty years ago and you will understand what I mean. People develop shopping patterns and don’t easily change the over many years.

    There are two big problems with the old Caldor Plaza. The first is the perception that the other side of the tracks is part of Hartford. And the second is that Hartford is unsafe and undesirable.

    Let’s not forget that Central Connecticut has not really grown in the last twenty years and the core city is economically depressed.

    The town does not own the property, and as such, cannot force the owner to do much of anything (except enforce zoning ordinances). In light of the controversy that has occurred over the past several years (BBS, of course), do we want the town subsidizing a private developer? Is it worth our tax money to attempt this on a marginal property? And how do you make a process like this equitable to other landowners who might want similar assistance?

    That being said, the town has tried to interest commercial concerns in re-locating or developing there, but because of the Hartford ‘perception’, none of them has wanted to risk the possible failure of any venture there. Maybe retail is the wrong answer in this location.

    I suspect that now that (development in) the Center is underway and now that (development in) Elmwood is underway, we will see more of a push by the town to get something done here. As a town, we desperately need to keep increasing the Grand List. The whole SE quadrant is waiting like unmined ore.

    It’s also essential that we strengthen the border areas by cooperating and communicating with Hartford and its residents/businesses. This is already happening to a great extent on Park Road.

    On the Town side, I think that we need a bigger development department. Rob Rowlson is stretched thin. IMHO, he has been one of the major reasons that we have seen such positive changes in Elmwood over the last five years.

    Great ideas are wonderful, but the bottom line in all of these issues is always $$$.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful, interesting replies.
    I guess what bothers me is that I have no sense the town is paying attention. Partly, I’m sure, it’s because the news coverage of West Hartford is so paltry. But it’s also the town’s own doing since it doesn’t ever address publicly these sorts of problems.

  5. Rick Liftig

    The town is in a weird position here.

    If you owned a piece of property and then read in the Courant or elsewhere that plans were being discussed about your property or your neighbor’s, you might be fairly upset. Many times, the owners are absentee and not even paying attention to what has been happening to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, Not every commercial property owner is interested in spending the money to improve their land and buildings.

    We saw an embarrassing example of this problem during the Elmwood charettes (in 1997) when a conceptual plan of Elmwood as it could look in fifty years was drawn up. On it, St. Brigid’s School had been turned into the new Community Center. Needless to say, when the Principal of the school (Sister Eleanor) saw this she was shocked.

    Incidents like this have led to the Town holding its cards close to the vest. For better or worse.

    But I have to agree, the town needs to publicize these things more. Time to add a few more employees in Community Services.

  6. Rick: the funny thing about your comment regarding perceptions about Hartford, because the Hartford side of the border over there is A LOT nicer than the West Hartford side. Leaving a Hartford residential neighborhood the first thing that greets you in West Hartford (up until a few months ago) is a porno video shop, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, abandoned restaurants and gas stations and countless muffler shops and tire salons. Plus the smells that eminate from the town dump don’t add to the allure of the place.

    I guess the point is that this whole area is zoned for that kind of stuff and nowhere else in the town is but really is a dump compared to Hartford’s Southwest neighborhood which it borders.

  7. Rick Liftig

    I couldn’t agree more. The area is a wasteland and isolates the Hollywood Avenue and Hillcrest neighborhood from the rest of the town. Part of it is zoned IG (Industrial) and part is zoned BG (Business General). These designations are very liberal,

    So does anybody have any good low cost ideas to spur development? And if so, what type of development should it be? It’s already zoned for a big box. And how do you attract the kind of development that you want? Is money enough? And do monetary incentives work?

  8. Lowes tried to fit the footprint at the old Caldor’s site- no can do, it is a wonderful spot for an entertainment venue such as a comedy club and restaurant.

  9. Rick Liftig

    If you know an interested comedy club or restaurant, let’s get them in touch with the owner.

  10. Joe Visconti

    Rick- I have been working on that behind the scenes, which is why I was curious to the Towns Adult Entertainment Zoning Laws. No one wants to see that stuff go in, and I believe it might be able to, thank god the owner isn’t thinking of that. Time is of the essence though, hope Rob Rowlson is on top of it.

  11. Captain Neo ( Joe Visconti)

    Ah you know the place? Perfect opportunity for skylights, don’t you think? A Rose by any other name is a Roofing Contractor?

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  13. After reading this article,I want to go out to see the movie with my boy firend.
    Goodbye and Good Luck.

  14. Rob

    I actually bought a 100 yr old house over on Abbotsford 3 yrs ago. It was the worst house on the street and after much toil and $$$ I turned it into one of the best. Now despite its beauty it has sat empty ever since. Nobody will dare rent there!

    It is apparent that the Town strategy has been to encapsulate the area. Other than a fool like me, who would want to invest in this area with this kind of attitude? I have sent letters to the town and even called into a WHCT talk show with the mayor about “east of the tracks,” and in so many words they acknowledged that the place is not at all a priority.

    They said something about not having much say in the matter because of the state of CT, and that Caldor is in a flood plane, etc. I just think that as expensive as it would be to address, sooner or later ignoring this (eye)sore blighted place will create even more expensive problems.

    Just with crime, I would guess that police disproportionate resources are expended there compared to other areas in town. It can only get worse.

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