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Norwalk murals a metaphor of City’s management

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Metaphor: “A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.”

Nothing could be more abstract than the host of issues plaguing the once-vibrant commercial city center of Wall Street.  Contrary to City officials’ popular excuse, the area’s struggle has not been due to the flood of 1955.

The very public saga with real estate developer Jason Milligan and the mayor over the recent downtown murals has spread to other favorite wall art dotted around town, provoking discussions over selective enforcement,  the value of art and concerns over City Hall having bigger issues to focus on. To me, these colorful murals are metaphors communicating much, much more. They’ve shined a light on City Hall’s  vindictiveness, overreach, inconsistency and lack of focus.

Vindictiveness: The initial mural was a fanciful depiction of what the corner of Wall and Isaac Streets could look like if officials focused on key player, Citibank – whose irresponsible lending resulted in the two-year long construction halt of POKO I, not so affectionately known as the “Tyvek Temple.”  Instead, their strategy has been to bully Milligan by filing a little-understood, taxpayer-funded, diversionary lawsuit because of his private enterprise audacity to purchase the financially- and physically-distressed adjoining properties.  Since his purchase, he’s cleaned up a parking lot and renovated some buildings in dire need of tenants and commercial life.

Overreach & Inconsistency: Norwalk’s Planning and Zoning regulations and permitting processes have long needed fixing. For those lacking direct experience, Mr. Milligan has provided a ringside seat into prospective tenants, Mr. Mango and the orthodontist struggling with the cumbersome, redundant and inconsistent permitting processes necessary to open even the smallest of businesses in Norwalk. Perhaps this explains the empty storefronts.

Lack of focus: While the City unveils its 157-page Wall Street redevelopment plan, dating back to 2008, it begs the question, Why is it taking so long?  Why have we been unable to execute the most basic redevelopment, help small businesses in the area or capitalize on existing city assets?  To use a baseball metaphor, why haven’t we tried simple base hits over the years of failed grand slams like POKO?

There are a variety of Wall Street initiatives City officials could focus on, too lengthy for this editorial, but cracking down on murals shouldn’t be one of them.

In short, start with this low-hanging fruit:

  • Drop the lawsuit against Milligan. Foreclose on Citibank, tear up the LDA and start over with POKO I.
  • Focus on being a city ‘easier to do business with’ and clean up the permitting process for small business, instead of giving away taxpayer money.
  • Scrap the $15 million Norwalk Innovation District property tax giveaway, especially since it covers pretty much the same geographical area as the federal Opportunity Zones tax incentives.
  • Put in the long-discussed angled parking, so more customers can access businesses whose owners are risking their life savings to make a go of it in Norwalk.
  • Get former Mayor Knopp and Milligan together again to strategize on redeveloping the city-owned, historical, Carnegie Main Library and parking lot, making it a centerpiece anchor for the area and one we can be proud of.

Despite the mayor’s recent editorial, the mural saga is more than a spat between him and a cheeky developer.  It’s about common sense management at City Hall and breathing new life and energy into an area that has sorely needed it for some time.

 

Lisa Brinton

 

Brinton ran for Mayor in 2017.

6 comments

Milly November 18, 2018 at 7:26 am

Norwalk’s downtown area was full of stores and businesses thru the 1980s. Malls are what ruined many cities downtowns. This made up story that Norwalk had no downtown after that flood in the 1950s has to stop – it is fake news!

Piberman November 18, 2018 at 11:02 am

The sad reality is that Norwalk homeowners have long been disinterested in Our City Hall that focuses on its own needs rather than serving taxpayers. As befits an increasing transient City ruled by One Party. Business avoids investing in Norwalk for the obvious reasons. And the situation won’t change until Norwalk homeowners demand much more professional competence at City Hall. Until then we’ll see ever higher punitive taxes, falling property values and exodus of long time residents. They all define what Mayor Rilling identifies as “CT’s greatest City” in his campaign literature.

Criticizing Mayor Rilling and his overpaid undequalifed staff is the easy part. Encouraging well qualified citizens to step forward to manage City affairs to a high standard is the hard part. So far Norwalk seems content to criticize City Hall and vote for the only meaningful change available – just move away. Sliding property values surely indicate Norwalk is not attractive to would be new homeownes.

Patrick Cooper November 21, 2018 at 10:32 am

Perhaps all the recent Norwalk “naysayers” (thanks for that bit of lexicon Laoise), the multiple proponents, even the urban art & mural lovers, and those taking a more colonial “Rhode Island” approach (abstain from the controversy) – should give a bit of gratitude to Lisa Brinton for this opinion piece.

Harry caved.

This Mayor cares very little how Norwalk works, nor how it’s taxpayers feel (except every other October), nor how the city hall dysfunction he oversees spills into our daily lives like dripping toxic sludge. In his mind that is now the purview of his chief of staff. But he cares very deeply – obsessively – with how things “look”. His interest is 100% informed by politics.

By writing this letter, Lisa very succinctly laid bare for all of Norwalk to see just how this “Mural” fiasco appropriately became a metaphor for the Rilling administration.

Vindictive, Overreaching, Petty, and without Focus. Yep – that sure “looks” bad. Embarrassing even. And he knew it.

However, a more important “other” point that should not be missed is this: Harry fears Lisa will run again, and this time – he knows she can win.

Harry caved because of the optics.

Thank you, Lisa.

Piberman November 23, 2018 at 12:16 pm

To Ken:

Four decades after moving to Norwalk from the other side of the world I was attracted by several hundred long time residents actively involved in their Citys’ governance. Keenly aware of the challenge of maintaining a viable City surrounded by some the wealthiest and best governed towns in the nation.
The “old Norwalk gang” deeply loved their City and enthusiastically attended civic meetings by the hundreds.

Those days are long behind us and Norwalk slides to a Bridgeport solution. Without a revitalized citizenry that demands much more professional governance from our City Hall “amateurs” devoted to their public Unions rather than taxpayers we know our future.

Norwalk’s elected officials are incapable of restraining, controlling or even reducing Norwalk’s City budget. We have the decade long stagnant Grand List and falling property values costing billions in lost property appreciation to show for our civic indifference

Why should we just be quiet. Or move away. Our surrounding towns are competently managed aided by accomplished and professional residents. Is it really not possible for Norwalk to be governed by elected officials who command our appreciation ? Or do we boast about having a college student in our Common Council and a former City employee as Mayor. No other CT City operates this way. Why Norwalk.

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