JACK DAVIS: Welcome to this forum on one of the most exciting and important issues that's facing Hartford, in our region, and I should say, one of the most exciting opportunities.

As you may have noticed, in the last couple of years The Courant has focused very intensely on making Hartford a better urban environment. A place where families can prosper and grow and fulfill their hopes, and a place where citizens can work together to make a livable, friendly, exciting, safe city.

No cluster of topics that we cover in our newspaper pages is more important than the ingredients that shape the cityscape; planning, housing, transportation, crime, architecture, land use, and so on. And from time to time we have focused on some of the most important of these urban design subjects and organized around them a Key Issues Forum, like this one. In the past year we've held forums on the design of the convention center at Adriaen's Landing, and on the, excuse my editorializing, the unfortunate plan to tear down the CIGNA building in Bloomfield. Next month, we will have a forum on the proposal to turn Coltsville into a national park.

Park Street, we feel, is as important, if not more important, than those things and it certainly deserves the kind of discussion we're having here today. Evidently, lots of people agree with us because this is the best attendance we've seen in a long time for a Key Issues Forum; so thank you for coming.

The Courant's editorial board has been working for weeks on a special project on Park Street. The project will appear in the Commentary section of this coming Sunday's paper (Aug; 18) and, since we're a multimedia operation, we've been shooting video that will go along with the project, the incarnations of the project that appear on Fox 61 News this weekend and on our website, CTnow.com.

Park Street is the section of Hartford that has the most potential to be a lively and humane urban experience. We think it is the backbone of a neighborhood that has potential to be the key to Hartford's rebirth, and we see it as the place that has the potential to become even more of what it already is today, which is the capital of Hispanic culture in this region.

We're excited by the forces that are at work behind Park Street's revitalization. A lot of them you will be hearing about at this session. Let me mention just a few. We have a determined, energetic community, we have an effective business leadership group, the Spanish American Merchants Association, we have a great plan conceived by urban designer Ken Greenberg & Associates with considerable input from the community. We have a solid plan that the city and other entities have put together, following the Greenberg plan, to rebuild the street and the sidewalks, along with $6 million to do that.

We have revenue from the surtax that was approved in the special election recently, to do all kinds of improvements for Park Street. We have the support of an engaged city government and the support of a strong mayor, Eddie Perez.

So, let me introduce the person who will be the moderator of our panel, my colleague on the editorial board and our specialist in Hartford City issues, David Medina, a member of The Courant's editorial board.

DAVID MEDINA: Thank you all for coming. I'm going to say very quickly that I think we're very, very fortunate to have a publisher and an editorial page editor who have seen the vision and want to improve Hartford and make that a mission of the paper.

Let me introduce the panelists. To my immediate left, your right, is Carlos Lopez. He is a businessman, a merchant on Park Street for more than 30 years. He owns Luis of Hartford furniture store. He's the developer of La Plaza de Mercado, which you all probably know as El Mercado, and he also operates a city-owned parking garage for the Hartford Parking Authority. .

Ruth Martinez. is a resident of Park Street. She's lived there since 1983 and she's a property owner on Park Street since 1997. Since 1989 she has worked for the state of Connecticut in a variety of positions and she's presently an election officer with the Secretary of the State's office.

Julio Mendoza. is the executive director of the Spanish American Merchants Association, probably one of the largest merchant associations in the state and the most influential. In that capacity, he helped develop a $3.5 million loan fund for small businesses. Prior to that, for more than 22 years, he was a deputy director and finance officer for La Casa de Puerto Rico. He is the founder of the Roberto Clemente Softball League.

Robert Patricelli is a CEO of two local healthcare companies and last month he was named Hartford's Champion on Governor John G. Rowland's Council on Economic Competitiveness and Technology. His job in that capacity is to encourage public and private officials to address the needs of inner city businesses.

Mayor Eddie Perez, elected this past December. His ties to Park Street run very deep. He lived in the area for some time. As President of the South Side Institution's Neighborhood Alliance, he funded the Park Street Revitalization Strategy that financed the Greeberg study. We have the pleasure of sitting in a building right now that he helped build, the Learning Corridor.

Patti White is the executive director of the Immaculate Conception Shelter and Housing Corporation on Park Street. She's an active member of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, the Hartford Continuum for Care, and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

Now, as Jack Davis mentioned, two years ago Kenneth Greenberg, a noted national urban planner designed a Park Street Revitalization Strategy. It was a concept. What we're trying to do today is put some meat, some detail to that concept. It has a lot of beautiful pictures of what Park Street can look like given the right investment and the right motivation. So, to that purpose, I would like to ask our panelists to give a brief two minute summation of what they see as the future of Park Street, hopefully incorporating some of the things that Mr. Greenberg mentioned in his strategy, namely the Gateway, the shelters, the Lyric Theatre, housing, parking, and security.

LOPEZ: Well, I have a long speech here for about 2 1/2 hours! But I was asked specifically to talk about parking, so here I am. It's a challenge that we all have to live with in the whole city and Park Street is no exception to that. And with this newly created tax district and the new funding that, hopefully, will come to Park Street, we hope to make the street a vibrant shopping and dining and entertainment destination to residents of Greater Hartford.

Parking is always a big problem.. The street is always congested. We can divide the street in two sections, the lower Park Street which runs from Main to Washington Street, and also from Washington to Colt ______ will be upper Park Street.