Sherill Baldwin stood in front of a single slide introducing EcoWorks, a waste reduction and upcycling nonprofit that “seeks to make garbage fun.” That concept is coming to an emerging revived industrial district of New Haven, she said, outlining the organization’s plans for a new creative reuse center for the arts and “reboutique.”
“A reuse center for the arts is a thrift shop, accepting scrap from industry, as well as material from business, as well as materials from folks we like to call ‘active savers,’ who both like to save and see the value of materials, but may never use it,” explained Baldwin (pictured). “In turn, we sell this material to teachers, artists and others seeking low-cost art supplies.”
EcoWorks is one of projects city officials see coming to the Mill River District, the industrial stretch linking Wooster Square to Fair Haven. The city has been preparing a plan to make that happen, in part through rezoning. That plan, drawn up under the DeStefano administration, comes up for a public hearing of the Board of Alders’ Community Development Committee next Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall, a first step to government approval for adding it to the city’s Comprehensive Plan of Development.
The Mill River District initiative was hatched last year (read about its genesis here ). To read a copy of a consultant’s final study report, also available at a Project Storefronts-sponsored Pop-Up Gallery at 55 Church Street, click here.
On Monday night, city economic development chief Matthew Nemerson and deputy economic development administrator Mike Piscitelli discussed the plan with Mill River neighbors, community organizers, and urban planners gathered in the spacious bowls of bowels of Boldwood Interiors, formerly the Gant Shirt Factory
Baldwin kicked off the small business portion of the event.
“We’re very interested in being in the Greater New Haven area, especially New Haven, and specifically Mill River,” she said. The Mill River center, which will eventually require 4,000 to 10,000 square feet, is considering a temporary home in the Boldwood Interiors building.
With the help of Project Storefronts’ Elinor Slomba, Baldwin was initially wooed by the economic potential and affordability of the district. “We actually have been looking at this area for over a year and a half. We were a little bit reluctant to apply for Project Storefronts because we knew it was traditionally used for the downtown storefronts, but we applied and I can tell you, it was quick. It was very fast, and this was one of the properties we’re very interested in.”
“As Project Storefronts moves beyond downtown, the properties become more varied, and so do the needs of the entrepreneurs. We need to seize the potential of a new era where we’re crafting symbiotic relationships and not just finding space to run businesses,” added Slomba (pictured).
Also in the works – albeit the tentative works – is a Mill River and Fair Haven greenway, Piscitellli told the crowd. The greenway would run along the Mill River and connect to some of New Haven’s other greenway systems.
“You know, I just think it’s something that would make sense,” said Aaron Goode, a member of the executive board of the Downtown/ Wooster Square Community Management Team, as he pressed Nemerson for specifics.
Nemerson said doesn’t have many at this point. When asked where the greenway’s budget would come from, Piscitelli said, “We own a lot of coastal easements along the Mill River, from the original MDP [Management Development Program] and projects over the years.”
“You know, this must be bubbling up, and we’ve got an intern working on it, because it is part of the plan, and it stitches together nicely. We never did have all the pieces to make it work, so we’ll know more about that later in the summer. Given the interest in the community my sense is that we’ll meet with a group of stakeholders later in the year to see if we can move this forward,” he added.
The prospect of the greenway drew praise from J.R. Logan, director of new media strategies at the United Way of Greater New Haven. “I’m a local here, and that’s [the greenway] one of the things that makes me passionate,” he said. “I’m already working in this area, and I want to have access to the river. That’s my cup of tea. I love the idea that maybe people can walk to work, or bike – I think we need more of that.” You can see his proposal for a Mill River trail here.
Nemerson (pictured) urged people at the meeting to “come out and support us” at next Tuesday night’s hearing