Moving New London city offices would be the wrong move
After reading New London City Council President Don Venditto’s April 8 op-ed defending the planned relocation of most city offices and employees out of the downtown City Center District and into a nondescript office building at Shaw’s Cove, an area devoid of the bustle of human activity, I felt compelled to write for all the steadfast New Londoners who love City Hall and have not had a chance to express their views at a public hearing.
Venditto’s rationale for deserting the marble-lined hallways of our resplendent City Hall is that the city has been a lousy custodian of our historic buildings, failing to adequately maintain them. But instead of vowing to change the status quo and start repairing and maintaining properties, our mayor and council want to put the Martin Center, the Stanton Building and the Masonic Street building up for sale.
Perhaps jettisoning the Martin Center, which isn’t downtown, is reasonable. And, granted, City Hall itself isn’t on the chopping block, yet. But there is no concrete plan for renovations to City Hall, just vague promises.
The council seems to assume that there will be eager buyers for the Stanton and Masonic Street buildings. More likely is that those downtown buildings will sit vacant for years, deteriorating into dangerous rubble, as have so many buildings on Bank Street.
Commentaries in The Day have boasted about how investors love the historic architecture of our “hip little city.” That architecture is in jeopardy because of blight and the city is among the worst offenders. Abandoning downtown buildings rather than renovating them would set a dangerous precedent. What is the incentive for potential investors to invest in a city that fails to invest in itself?
I can’t help but consider the negative impact this move would have on downtown businesses. Whenever I’m downtown on city-related business, I inevitably end up stopping for coffee, buying a plant, picking up wine, having a bite to eat, browsing at one of the art galleries, or checking out the new jewelry or clothing arrivals at one of the downtown shops.
This move out of downtown, taking city office workers with it, could have a critically adverse impact on our unique local shops and restaurants. Residents who are conducting business at Shaw’s Cove are less likely to venture into downtown, as are the workers. Please consider the financial impact of this unnecessarily rushed decision.
Further, it seems ludicrous that the City Council has voted to negotiate a 25-year lease with a company that had owed back taxes to the city until recently and admitted to having liens filed against it.
I urge Mayor Michael Passero to be the maverick the city needs by bucking the trend of neglect perpetuated by past administrations. Be the leader who has the guts to put that $19 million that would be spent on rent over 25 years into renovating City Hall and kick starting renovations on the other two buildings as well. Meeting this challenge shouldn’t be too tall an order for someone who became a city firefighter and an attorney as well.
Then we’ll have something to show for, and something the city owns, for all those millions invested.
Joan Sullivan-Cooper lives in New London.