Bristol Seeks A New Name — Again — For Downtown Parcel

BRISTOL — When the city held a contest to name the rubble-strewn former mall property downtown, civic boosters were confident that the winning entry — Depot Square — would soon be emblazoned on the entryway to a new shopping plaza or apartment complex.

Instead, the property remains a vacant eyesore more than eight years later.

Mayor Ken Cockayne says with a new vision for the property emerging in the past several months, it's also time for a new name.

"I consider this name to be associated with a development that did not come to fruition," Cockayne said this week when he announced a new naming — or renaming — contest.

Bristol Hospital in December committed to commissioning a four-story medical office and lab complex there, which would be the first real progress on the property in 11 years. That could trigger private developers to put up money for restaurants and shops, Cockayne said, because the new medical center would bring doctors, technicians, staff and patients to the site every day.

"We're interested in a fresh start downtown, and that may mean letting go of the 'Depot Square' name," Cockayne said.

Eleven years ago, the administration of then-Mayor Gerard Couture envisioned the 17-acre site of the dilapidated and failing Bristol Centre Mall as a potential centerpiece for Bristol's revival. Couture prodded the city to buy the half-empty mall with dreams of getting $40 million in state aid to build an athletic center and cluster of civic buildings surrounded by new retail.

But no state funding came through, and commercial interest proved to be equally scarce.

In 2008, the city tore down the 188,000-square-foot mall. It christened the property "Depot Square," a nod to the region's industrial days when passenger and freight trains rumbled along the nearby tracks every day. City leaders wanted the new name to be part of a marketing campaign to lure developers and private investors.

Renaissance Downtowns signed on as master developer for the site, offering visions of a Blue Back Square-style multiuse development with restaurants, apartment towers and a hotel. But Renaissance couldn't line up private financing, and the city balked when it declared that the project would need a hefty infusion of municipal funding.

The city paid to tear down more buildings on the property and helped relocate the McDonald's that stood on its southern end. Along the way, the city transferred about 2 acres, leaving it with just 15 to market now.

Renaissance bailed out last year, and the Bristol Rising group it inspired — a collection of residents who backed the company's "crowd-sourced place making" strategy — has gone dormant since July.

Cockayne's administration is conducting a new "name that property" contest through the website. Respondents are asked if they want to change from Depot Square, and those who answer "yes" are invited to offer better names. Cockayne stressed that Depot Square could remain if that's the public's preference.

The Bristol Development Authority's downtown committee is scheduled to select a name in June.

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