Bristol To Hear Report On Chances For Downtown Redevelopment

BRISTOL – An outside firm is scheduled to tell city leaders and the public on Monday night whether it sees a feasible way for Renaissance Downtowns to put together a team of investors to redevelop downtown.

East Hartford-based Gorman & York Property Advisors has been reviewing Renaissance's proposal for building apartments on the site of the old Bristol Centre Mall.

Three years ago, Renaissance proposed a complex of mid-rise towers with apartments, commercial offices and first-floor retail, along with a 100-room hotel and a public plaza.

But with no sign of major investors stepping forward, the company this year announced it would have to begin modestly with just one apartment tower — and would need city financing even for that. It suggested $6 million in municipal bonding, which drew howls from opponents and disappointment even from some of the company's advocates.

Renaissance has acknowledged that major retailers won't be interested in downtown until there's a higher concentration of people — particularly younger, more affluent ones. It also said potential investors in any new market-rate housing complex are leery of downtown's demographics, which are skewed heavily toward the poor and the elderly.

Critics complain that Renaissance should have anticipated that, but most of them concede that another factor — the recession — has dragged on far longer than either Renaissance or the city —predicted.

Bristol and Renaissance originally had a deal for the company to settle on a development plan this summer. But that deadline was extended to give Renaissance more time to find partners and a chance to further refine its latest proposal.

Some residents favor extending Renaissance's contract as "favored developer," and argue that Bristol has no alternative to fall back on. Others have been clamoring in recent weeks for city officials to cut ties with the company and come up with a different plan for the mall property.

Mayor Ken Cockayne retained Gorman & York to give an independent analysis of Renaissance's proposal. The firm is scheduled to present its report to the city council at 6 p.m. at city hall.

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