They came to see the good, and the not so good.
“When it comes to the walking tour,” said Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker, associate director of the Connecticut Main Street Center, “we want to see warts and all.”
Parsons-Whitaker made the observation as she led people on a tour Tuesday afternoon of one of the city’s showpiece commercial “main streets,” Westville Village.
Connecticut Main Street Center and CEDAS (Connecticut Economic Development Association) are two not-for-profit organizations with dovetailing missions to help revitalize Connecticut main streets and advance economic development. They gathered a group at Westville’s Lyric Hall for guided walking tours in cooperation with WVRA (Westville Village Renaissance Alliance) board members and staff.
The tour was billed as an opportunity “to learn how an urban village is thriving, about the challenges it has faced, and how WVRA is collaborating with individuals and organizations to ensure a vibrant future for Westville Village.”
Tuesday’s Village tour began with a talk by Lyric Hall owner, John Cavaliere, on the renaissance of the antique structure he continues to restore and the two businesses that help sustain the enterprise. Some 40 people crowded into his antiques and frame restoration workshop and later into the refurbished entertainment hall that Cavalier created in part with reclaimed materials from Yale and other sources. Cavaliere acknowledged the assistance and role of the state, the city, WVRA and the community at large in making his vision possible.
Divided into four groups, the tours left Lyric Hall on an ambitious itinerary that included stops at ArloW, New Haven’s only income-restricted artists residential units; Edgewood Park, the scene of City Seed’s weekly Farmers’ Market; the thriving Manjares Cafe; and Stone Hearth, Westville’s farm-to-table restaurant that has absorbed aspects of the owner’s older Westville Village restaurant, Delaney’s, after a catastrophic fire on Aug. 25.
Tour leaders discussed WVRA’s role in helping in Delaney’s relief efforts and strategies employed to restore the business climate in the fire’s aftermath. Joining one of the tour groups was Delaney’s landowner Ron Groves, who said he is “going to try to restore what was there” as the tour surveyed the sandy, vacant lot. Noting the central role that Delaney’s has played in the life of the Village, Groves said that one impediment to rebuilding is “finding enough income to support the financing.” Click here for a full story on that.
Along the tour route, visitors glimpsed some empty storefronts but also new businesses like the Sixpence Pie company and the Project Storefront-assisted Barrage Design. Some good news that emerged from the tour was the pending rehabilitation of the Park New Haven Lot at Whalley Avenue and Blake Street. A grant from CT Main Street Center facilitated the planning for renovations that will include new signage, trees, smart meters, lighting and a bigger plaza after the bidding process is complete.
Across from the parking lot, tour visitors peered into the empty 500 Blake Street, as rumors floated about a potential purchase of a property that has languished empty for the better part of a decade after its heyday as a thriving event facility, saloon-inspired bar and upscale restaurant.
Some tours viewed Beecher Park, grounds of the Mitchell Public Library and site of the growing annual Summer Concert Series and Hi-Fi Pie Contests that, together with the annual Artwalk festival, represent the kind of family-oriented events that make Westville not only a destination but a great place to live.
With its prominent smokestack as a backdrop, A Broken Umbrella Theater’s workshop and location of several site-specific plays was viewed from the West River Greenway which provides an elevated view along the river as it passes the old Arial Map Factory. It’s 50,000 square feet have been envisioned as an arts incubator with artists and music studios, and creative businesses that include a theater and gallery.
During a closing reception held at Stone Hearth restaurant, State Rep. Pat Dillon delivered a brief, informal State of the Village message. She acknowledged the ongoing “fragile” status of the Village but gave credit for progress, first and foremost, to the prime movers of Westville’s renaissance—the grassroots volunteers and WVRA who partnered with state entities, and who today, continued to be assisted by helpful organizations like CT Main Street and CEDAS.