New Britain’s Stalinesque and worn out police station cries out for a replacement. The men and women of the force deserve better to carry out their public safety duties. The point is non-debatable. It’s past time to put shovel to ground.
The matter is apparently settled according to an August 18 Herald story. The options are down to two and the site is locked into the corner of Chestnut and Main across from Trinity-on-Main performing arts center. The Stewart administration, not exactly a paragon of inclusive discussion or citizen input, is moving full speed ahead.
Proponents of the final plans point to a development strategy that makes a fortress-like structure the catalyst to commercial, tax-paying expansion. They point to Middletown and the siting of its station as an example of how a new public safety facility can be helpful to retail revival.
It’s mandatory these days to use public investment for economic development. There is no firm private investment as of yet to fill non-police space either. And the possible bus way or rail link — an important means of bringing downtown back — are still years away. It’s not surprising that city officials and downtown interests would want to press ahead now with building a station just to get development moving.
Voices have and will be raised, however, that giving the station such a dominant footprint on Main Street is not the last and best use. That’s where retail/commercial/cultural uses may be more appropriate over the long term, according to comments made while the project was open for debate. For some, a third option — which admittedly would take longer — is siting the police facility at the former Herald Building two doors down. It’s close enough to Main Street’s open lot but leaves prime space in the central business district for tax-producing development. Inhabitants and visitors of downtown don’t necessarily need a police building as much as a police presence to reassure the public and increase social and economic activity in the central business district.
The merits of building a new police station are unquestioned. What is in question is whether the Main Street model can spur private development with much of the primary space taken away. It’s expecting too much. Other factors such as public transit, developing cultural assets and a much higher profile for CCSU downtown will have an equal or greater impact than the imposing police station model.