Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz toured the West Main Street area Friday morning and saw what she believes is the recipe for successful downtown redevelopment.
“To make a great downtown, you need the arts, great restaurants, and it needs to be walkable,” Bysiewicz said, referencing examples in New London, New Britain, Willimantic, and Norwich.
Led by state Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, Bysiewicz visited Brian’s Guitars at 453 W. Main St. and walked across the street to its sister business, West Main Street Music Academy. She then visited Bergamo’s Martial Arts Academy and the Ball & Socket Arts Project, all in close proximity to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. State Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, also joined the tour.
The arts employ over 20,000 people in the state, Bysiewicz said, and is a driver of local economic development.
“I have always had a vision of West Main Street as a walkable arts mecca,” Linehan said. “In my opinion, this should be the biggest area of growth in Cheshire.”
Town officials on the tour agreed.
“This is a priority for us, because we don’t have a downtown,” said Town Council Chairman Rob Oris. “We would like to see more investment.”
“Culture and art alongside business is a win-win for everyone and our town,” said Yetta Augur, president of the Cheshire Chamber of Commerce.
Brian Giampietro, owner of Brian’s Guitars and West Main Street Music Academy, gave Bysiewicz an update on his business, in addition to letting her take a look at a shining purple, star-shaped guitar custom-made for Lady Gaga. Linehan took a brief turn at the drums while visiting the academy.
Giampietro, a Cheshire native, employs a dozen people and his guitars range in cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars. He offers lessons for students of all ages in voice and all musical instruments. Bysiewicz wanted to know why he decided to invest in the state.
“The governor and I are interested in getting people back to Connecticut,” Bysiewicz said.
Giampietro chose to relocate his business two years ago from Hamden back to his hometown because of the nexus of activity growing around West Main Street, particularly the development of the Ball & Socket Arts Project. “We are looking for our business to benefit from the other businesses in the area and vice versa,” he told the Lt. Governor.
David Arai, architect for the Ball & Socket Arts Project, expects that the first phase of the redevelopment of the long-dormant button plant would be open in 18 months. The property is currently undergoing lead and asbestos remediation.
“This will be a true mixed use space,” Arai said, noting that galleries, performance space, retail, and restaurants are planned for the facility.
The Ball& Socket Arts Project is likely to create jobs and be a draw for the region, making it more attractive for state support.
“What the governor and I look to prioritize is economic development that will help a whole area,” Bysiewicz said.
In addition to some of the usual tools government uses to stimulate business, like bonding and grants, Bysiewicz pointed to small business express loans as being important for shepherding businesses toward a healthy beginning.
While Linehan is grateful for the help Cheshire already received, she believes that the town could be a good place for additional state funding. “We hope (Bysiewicz) takes away that small towns are an important opportunity for investment,” Linehan said.