Ed Thorndike ’89: “Closing is not something that we view as an option.”
Yesterday I liveblogged an open community forum in PAC 001 regarding the proposed Washington Street commercial development and Wesleyan bookstore relocation. Considering recent controversy, I expected to hear some forceful arguments from community members. My expectations were exceeded. If you missed the 90-minute discussion, a quick glance at the liveblog coverage might hint at the passion with which students, faculty, alumni, and Middletown residents spoke out against the proposal. Some of the major complaints addressed traffic concerns, Washington Street safety, threats to local businesses, whether or not downtown really needs national chains, disregard for historic structures, permanent changes to zoning laws, Red & Black Cafe, skepticism towards the developers’ stated desire for “linkage” and “community,” and, ultimately, the character of downtown Middletown itself. Succinctly put, there’s a lot wrapped up in this proposal.
Inspired by many of the voices expressed at the forum, I stuck around afterwards to interview a few of the more outspoken community members. Some brief video statements appear past the jump. They feature two Wesleyan alumni (both of whom live and work in Middletown) and one current professor.
If my reporting seems one-sided—admittedly, I’m no fan of the proposal myself—it’s worth clarifying that of the 150 or more attendees at this forum, not one spoke up in favor of the development. Nobody seemed to like the idea. Nobody seemed to believe it will provide the “linkage” and “community engagement” it’s supposed to offer. Except for the developers themselves, of course, who have now found themselves in a sticky situation. By claiming to be interested and invested in community input, Centerplan has been met with a community that seems seems pretty fervently united against the proposal. So what can Centerplan do now? Politely explain the concept of a “Walk/Don’t Walk” signal for the fifth time to anyone who points out how miserably congested and dangerous Washington Street already is? Continue insisting that they have Middletown’s best interests at heart whether or not Middletown agrees? Hold another forum and make sure Dan Drew shows up?
Mayor Drew, that is, has expressed support for the proposal, largely on the basis of job creation. Judging by yesterday’s forum, his constituents will have to be dragged tooth and nail.
I spoke with Katchen Coley GRAD ’63, who’s lived in Middletown longer than some of your professors have been alive and has the unique experience of having attended Wesleyan’s graduate school before the University began accepting female undergraduates. At the forum, Coley argued that this discussion is happening “a little late in the game” and “Wesleyan needs to think about basic things”:
Then I spoke with Ed Thorndike ’89, the Wesleyan alumnus who has owned and operated Red & Black Cafe for over 20 years. Thorndike has already posted a lengthy statement on the proposed bookstore relocation. In brief, he says he’s “stunned” by the lack of regard given to his business in the proposal so far. “Closing is not something we view as an option,” Thorndike told me.
Lastly, I talked to Professor Brian Stewart, Chair of Physics, who described parking as “the most obnoxious aspect” of the development plan.