Visions from the Past
From notes provided by Erin
It was urban renewal. It started in 1960. It continued into the 70ís. It eventually included the "Downtown Project," the "North Side Project," and the "Middle Street Industrial Park Project." It was Federally funded. It was controversial.
The original application, dated Dec. 15, 1960, called for "complete reconstruction of (the) central business district." Under the original plan "176 buildings, including 85 commercial buildings (= the destruction of 85% of the downtown business district) covering almost 68 acres of land in the downtown area were scheduled for demolition." In 1960 Mayor Walter J. Murphy Jr., director of the Redevelopment Agency, unveiled the aggressive plan of redevelopment, including the "placing of the North Creek in a conduit through the project area and the construction of a new City Hall, a civic center including a senior citizens center, a new fire headquarters, housing for the elderly, office buildings, a hotel-motel and a shopping plaza with underground parking which would double as a municipal bomb shelter." Estimated cost of the project was $6.8 million net after the sale of land to redevelopers and the State Highway Department. In January, 1968, the Paquabuck River conduit construction was added, along with street improvements in the area. The net cost had now doubled, but the Federal government was paying 75% with the city and state sharing the remaining cost. New construction included: the Associated Spring plant, a new City Hall, fire headquarters, Post Office, First National Store, movie theater, and Bristol Centre Mall. However, construction was not without controversy; in the fall of 1967, the Bristol Central Realty Co., mall developers, filed for bankruptcy with the mall only 80% complete. The financial situation was finally resolved and the mall opened in time for the 1970 Christmas shopping season.
The first decade of urban renewal can be characterized by construction and challenges; there were new buildings, but there were also struggles with government bureaucracy, financing, changing priorities, and public opinion. While ex-Mayor J. Harwood Norton said, "Aesthetically, some of the buildings donít have the same charm of the old buildings. But they are cleaner. Itís a neater setup, and easier to maintain," former Mayor Frank Longo felt that redevelopment had destroyed the cityís spirit.
Bell, Thomas. "Downtown: Did it need to be saved?" (August 15, 1989) The Bristol Press.
Warner, Dick. "City Redevelopment Has Had Stormy History." (October 12, 1971) The Bristol Press, 100th Anniversary Edition.