At a meeting on Tuesday, community members discussed the proposed development of land on Washington Street and the potential relocation of the University bookstore to the planned complex. Members expressed their unanimous disagreement with the plan. More than 100 University students, faculty, staff, and Middletown residents attended the meeting on Nov. 27 organized by Centerplan Constructions. By the end of the meeting, it was clear that both proposals face considerable opposition from many members of both the University and Middletown communities.
“I think everyone has made the point here that they don’t believe that Wesleyan should relocate their bookstore to the site… predominantly that’s the opinion of the room,” said Centerplan Chief Executive Officer Robert Landino.
Centerplan’s proposal calls for the University to relocate the bookstore to a location on Washington Street, which could be the site of a three-story building complex. Centerplan hopes for the complex to contain the University bookstore, offices, local businesses, and national retailers. If the building is approved, construction is projected to begin in the spring of 2013 and conclude about a year later.
At the beginning of the meeting, Landino and Centerplan Project Manager Yves Joseph explained their reasons for proposing to construct a building complex on Washington Street.
“The plan is to really create a center of gravity for the students to kind of mingle, socialize, to interact, and really kind of add some energy to Washington Street,” Joseph said.
Both Landino and Joseph stressed that they wanted the proposed building and inculsion of the University bookstore to serve as “a linkage” between the University and greater Middletown community.
Following Centerplan’s introduction, the meeting was opened up for questions and comments from the audience. Attendees asked Landino about the safety of Washington Street, the problems with introducing national retail chains into Middletown, the effect this building would have on the surrounding residential area, and whether or not this building complex would actually serve as a link between the University and Middletown.
“I think it’s a really poor idea that they’re proposing,” said Middletown resident Jan Asong. “I think they’re not taking into consideration that this is a residential area…I think it would be terrible to have the student bookstore across Washington Street [away] from the campus. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Others criticized what the building could do to the overall makeup of Middletown.
“I just think there are too many other issues,” said Middletown resident Steve Smith. “It feels like they had an idea for the property and looked to justify it by suiting Wesleyan and getting them on board and justifying it as a gateway. They’re throwing around a lot of terms that make it sound nice, but really the commercial area stops just at about Midas [Auto Repair] where Wesleyan starts. Then it’s nice to move into a college and residential community then move your way down to Main Street. I don’t think we need commercial [areas] to connect us to Main Street. It’s nice to have a residential area and a liberal arts college surrounding your well-developed downtown area.”
Many of the more critical comments were met with applause and cheers from some members of the audience.
“To me, [the proposal] makes me sick,” said one audience member.
During the meeting, Landino responded to each of the speakers by either answering their questions or offering his own opinion on why he believed Centerplan’s proposal to be beneficial to Middletown.
“We’re here to listen to you specifically,” Landino said. “I think the purpose for today is to talk about the bookstore and to give you enough information about the project and answer questions as best we can.”
Even with the apparent opposition to the plan, the meeting was mostly civil. However, there was some tension in the room when Landino told an audience member who had been laughing at a comment to become more involved in the political system if he wanted to stop the proposal.
“If you disagree with that, sir that was laughing, you get up and you run for office, you get appointed to planning and zoning and become part of the solution, just like I did,” he said.
The audience member, to whom the comment was directed, in response shouted, “I’ll do that!”
Despite these tensions, several people at the meeting said they were pleased to see the prevalence of the opposition.
“I loved the meeting; I thought the meeting was fabulous,” Asong said. “But I’m very disappointed with the rationale that they’re presenting for doing this.”
Another audience member stated that he would have preferred a different structure for the meeting.
“I think everybody got the chance to speak and those people [who attended] weren’t in favor of it [the building complex],” said Associate Professor of Russian Language and Literature Duffield White. “It’d be nice to hear people speaking in favor of it. It was kind of all of us coming up with reasons why it was a bad idea and [Landino] was saying why it was a good idea. I think it might have been better if he had simply listened instead of trying to respond with his position. It felt a little too much like a done deal to me.”
According to the Hartford Courant, both Mayor of Middletown Dan Drew and Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce President Larry McHugh had previously announced their support for the plan on Nov. 14.
“[The proposal] will generate tax revenue and bring a tremendous amount of customers into Middletown,” Drew said.
Outside of the meeting, the plan has received harsh criticism from both Middletown Eye Editor Ed McKeon and KidCity founder Jen Alexander ’88 P’15 P’16, as well as from Red & Black Café owners Ed Thorndike ’89 and Karen Kaffen-Polascik.
Despite the apparent opposition to the plan, the University has yet to decide whether or not it will relocate the bookstore to this proposed new complex.