Mayor John DeStefano Jr. last night presided over the first of four meetings he has planned for the coming months to convince community leaders of the importance of increasing economic development and shifting the tax burden from homeowners to businesses.
The proposals DeStefano presented on Wednesday evening target five areas of downtown New Haven with potential for growth and call for economic development for the downtown area, which contains 5 percent of the city’s square footage but generates one-third of its jobs and one-fourth of its tax revenue.
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”What do we want to look like 15 years from now?” DeStefano asked the audience.
City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the event — which drew a crowd of about 30 community members, aldermen, city officials and members of the press — was designed to engage the community in coming up with plans for New Haven’s future.
DeStefano said one of the proposals — for a privately funded Economic Development Corporation that would assist the city in increasing capacity for development — could be launched as early as April.
A. Walter Esdaile, the director of the Small Business Initiative in New Haven, said such a body would be helpful to his organization, which provides technical assistance and low-cost loans to small business owners in New Haven.
“We are on the ground … but we need help with vision and with long-term goals,” Esdaile said.
While the plans for the Economic Development Corporation are close to implementation, many of DeStefano’s other proposals focus on neighborhood-specific strategies to increase the tax base and create 20,000 new jobs. He also aims to add almost 16 million square feet of developed downtown spaces.
“I’m trying to engage people to think of downtown differently,” DeStefano said.
The mayor said the Medical District/Union Station region — one of the five sections of downtown — could undergo changes such as development of the Union Station garage development and the addition of retail and residential developments, which it currently lacks. DeStefano said the city and Yale-New Haven Hospital have a mutual interest in developing commercial growth around the hospital, which is located in the area.
DeStefano also said he hopes to reintroduce a traditional street grid to the area, which features a large number of confusing streets and dead ends.
Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James — whose constituency includes the Medical District/Union Station area — said she likes the idea of taxable development but is unconvinced of the proposal’s merit.
“The taxable development is encouraging, but we still need to feel a connection to downtown,” she said. “Some of the fear is that the sense of community would be taken away.”
Other audience members expressed concern with the economic vitality of various New Haven neighborhoods.
Lester Walters, a former New Haven resident who now lives in nearby Meriden, said he came to the meeting to see what development the city might have planned for the Hill neighborhood, where he grew up.
“I think much can be done in that area,” Walters said. “We need more businesses, so our kids can have jobs.”