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.
Brinton ran for Mayor in 2017.