Good morning everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. I want to take this moment to wish you all a truly happy new year.
A new year means that in addition to all of us being a year older, we also have a renewed sense of purpose and a commitment to achieving our goals.
The last time I stood before you, our state and our country had just suffered unspeakable tragedy. So, I especially want to wish all those who I know will be healing for a long time, a new year of love and support.
Exactly one year ago, I told you several important things including that Hartford was safer; safer than it has been in 30 years. We still are and I will tell you more about that later.
But before I discuss what you can expect from my administration in 2014, I want to give you brief update on what we have done.
A lot can happen in a year.
In 2013, we lost one of my personal heroes, Mr. Nelson Mandela. Anyone who goes to prison for what they believe for 30 plus years and comes out with even greater commitment, has my unfaltering respect. so in his honor, I want to begin with something he said:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
I can recall a time not too long ago when a lot of what I’m about to tell you seemed impossible.
First we have created approximately 362 new jobs in 2013.
That is the result of new businesses that have opened, expanded or relocated to Hartford — the result of entrepreneurs who take risks and ultimately drive the economy forward. Hartford is like most of the country where small business drives the majority of job creation.
I realize that may not seem like a lot, but jobs are hard to come by. There are cities in Connecticut and across the country that are experiencing no growth for various reasons including the economic downturn. It’s not where we need to be but it’s better than where we were.
We retained over 350 jobs, meaning there were companies that were considering leaving our city but we stepped in to show them the error of their ways.
This doesn’t count, of course, our summer youth employment. I was just told last week that the U.S. conference of mayors has acknowledged our efforts and we’re receiving an award for our summer youth program. And those jobs — critical in the development of our young people — happen because of your support and contribution. And I want to thank you for that.
We had more than 80 new businesses open this year. These include Colt Café, Trampoline Launch, Capital Grille, Foley Carriers, and innovative businesses like Make Hartford at 30 Arbor Street. Make Hartford is a co-working lab that has the equipment, infrastructure and raw materials necessary to prototype an idea. This model is part of a phenomenon that is happening in cities throughout the country and the world. Hartford as you know was once known for its innovation. If we are going to reclaim that legacy we have to try new things, and make sure we’re inspiring our entrepreneurs and innovators. we have to make it easy for them come and to remain here.
2013 was absolutely huge as far as housing developments. This year alone we launched 10 new developments downtown in collaboration with CRDA including big projects like 777 Main Street, 101/111 Pearl Street, the former Sonesta Hotel, 3 Constitution Plaza,
The former Capewell horseshoe factory, 179 Allyn Street and 201 Ann Uccello Street.
I want to make very clear the city’s role in making this development happen. For the large developments, my staff met with the developers early in the design process to insure that permits were ready to be issued at the financial closing. We did this work without permits being applied for and without collecting the permit fee because we recognize the importance of working cooperatively to make development happen.
That’s not all we did. As many of you are aware, we recently overhauled our permitting process. One year ago, the chances of you walking into license and inspection and getting a permit the same day was 4% — today it’s 52%. One year ago, the chances of you getting a permit within 30 days was 11% — today it’s 84%.
And we did this because when I assumed office I made it very clear that I wanted people to know Hartford is open for business. I understood that we needed to shift our policies to make it easier for businesses to take advantage of all that Hartford has. We have more to do but the fast track of all these projects is a testament to the enormous progress we’ve made in just one year.
We made significant investments in our neighborhoods last year.
Last week, I announced $300,000 in new resources to help individual homeowners eliminate blight. The Hartford Restoration Project augments the more than $500,000 we have invested in anti-blight this year through our traditional housing programs.
Severely blighted structures — long time eye sores in our city such as 41-47 Wolcott Street, 52 Franklin Ave., 156 Sargeant Street and the 9 buildings that make up Horace Bushnell apartments on Vine Street — are all currently being renovated, vastly improving the quality of life for our residents.
We continue to assist first-time home buyers in projects such as the south marshall street homeownership corridor, frog hollow ownership initiative and Dutch Point town homes; and numerous other smaller developments citywide. The results are 66 new homeowners and 104 current homeowners getting assistance with maintenance and renovations.
Last year the city of Hartford invested $5 million dollars in the historic Colt factory building to spur the development of 79 additional units of housing, adding to the 50 that currently exist and are at full capacity. Construction will begin in May.
Right now, we have approximately half a billion dollars in development and rehabilitation work permitted and ready to be invested in our city. This investment includes new housing, anti-blight efforts, downtown north revitalization, the rehabilitation of our parks, school building remediation, investment in arts and culture and the city’s intermodal triangle project. As the first implementation phase for the iQuilt plan, this project lays the framework to stimulate economic investment in the city.
We launched our first ever storefront revitalization project in downtown Hartford to enliven our downtown and expand commercial activity. Three businesses received free rent for 6 months, and start up cash to launch a brick and mortar store. Two out of the three are Hartford natives. We are working on replicating this model in our neighborhoods and implementing a strategy for those businesses to become permanent.
The way we do business is being dramatically reshaped by the Internet and globalization. We must be responsive to this evolution and redefine our approach to marketing our capital city to our residents, businesses and visitors. That being said, Hartford is doing well.
We had over two million people attend events in our downtown in 2013, including Winterfest and Envisionfest and we estimate that over five million people attended events in Hartford last year. Hartford’s support of events such as the ING Marathon and events held at the riverfront have had an economic impact of over $20 million dollars to our city.
Hartford still remains the center for arts and culture in the region. Over $200 million is spent annually by consumers on arts and cultural events in the greater Hartford area; the majority of these events are in Hartford. Our creative economy drives business, it drives jobs and innovation and its why I am committed to growing it. We have invested over two million dollars in our one of kind jobs grant program, which has helped to create over 800 jobs since 2009. For every dollar invested by the city $3 came back in audience spending.
We recently finalized our downtown north plan and it was exactly one year ago when we opened our public safety complex right at the apex of downtown north. The vision for downtown north is to reconnect Hartford’s Nrth End to Downtown. This strategy is based on a clear development code and sustainable development policies. Incentives are clearly identified for developers to insure the type of development we want to achieve and that Hartford residents can benefit from the many jobs that will be created. This is an enormous project that will make our city more walkable, more connected, and more in line with what it should look like. And yes, there is a supermarket included in this plan.
I want to make a quick point here. As I meet with developers to discuss converting or expanding certain areas into “entertainment districts” the topic of noise and its impact on residents always comes up. It’s something we’re mindful of — how to achieve a balance that’s not overly disruptive. That said, if we want our city to change, we have to be open to changing along with it.
2013 was big year for Hartford public schools. As you all know we are actively searching for a new superintendent, someone with advanced qualifications in the areas of curriculum planning and development, organizational management, and community relations among other skills. This individual will have the capacity to manage the complex infrastructure of an urban school system and understand clearly their role in shaping Hartford’s future. We cannot minimize the impact of poverty upon education and the new superintendent will work with me on tackling this very complicated issue. This is the most important job in this city.
Now, I want to be clear, the model for Hartford public schools is based on portfolio strategies. Our commitment to school reform, and the achievements we’ve made over the last 3 years — that will not change.
Programs like “Hartford Promise”, where through your commitment Hartford high school graduates with a “B” average or better will receive up to $20,000 toward college tuition and costs. With your continued support, that program will only get bigger and better.
Our new superintendent will drive student performance and push to give every Hartford student the high quality education they deserve. Our new superintendent will continue to solicit ideas from families and communities about school and district decisions, he/she will partner with key stakeholders to implement projects and further augment the performance based accountability for schools.
There is no issue more important than the education of our young people. Fifty two percent of our general fund is allocated toward our public schools. That doesn’t include additional capital investments we’re making.
In 2013, we spent millions renovating our schools. Three schools — Journalism and Media Academy formerly Weaver High, MD Fox and Global Communications the former Quirk — all received significant structural upgrades that will positively impact the way thousands of students learn. And we know learning is impacted by several factors including health, diet and exercise.
To support this idea, we partnered with the Cal Ripken Foundation and invested $4 million dollars to build Hartford’s first ever synthetic athletic fields. We broke ground on the first one right in front of the new Global Academy. We did it because our kids deserve high quality sports fields; they deserve the chance to be kids, to be active. We want to remind our young people that it’s not just about being on your phones or gaming. And yes, we are bringing Cal Ripken here in the spring for the opening.
And finally, public safety. A year ago I told you Hartford was safer than it has been in years.
In 2013, we had two separate 3-month time periods with no homicides — that hasn’t happened in 10 years. Let me repeat that six months of last year we had no homicides. We had a rough summer, when budget cuts — that I did not support — combined with the heat became a challenge. Yet, Hartford’s solvability rate is almost double what it is in comparable cities across the country. That means we’re catching criminals. The message is clear. We’re going to find you. We received a $1.4 million dollar COPS grant from the federal government and project longevity will kick off this year. And let me clear, shootings and aggravated assaults are not random or arbitrary acts of violence. These crimes are being committed by individuals who usually know each other. Our strategy is to focus on prevention as well as enforcement. Hartford’s shooting task force is out there meeting with the most hardened criminals to engage them. And the reality is our strategy is working.
So I will reinforce what I said to you last year — Hartford is safer now than it has been in 30 years. And I plan to keep it that way.
We will continue to fight the perception with truth and numbers but I also need your help to spread these facts around.
Most of the examples I cited were external changes. But you all know real change happen internally. We made a lot of changes in city hall recently. We’re not exempt from the impact of this tough economy and we took steps to address the reality of rising health and pension costs. Over the summer, I introduced a package of fiscal resolutions that included an increase in health contribution from city employees, an increase in pension contributions and the elimination of the Embers Program. Does it mean that our new generation of employees may have to work longer and contribute more for their retirement? Yes. But we have to do what’s best for our city to achieve long term sustainable growth. A stable mill rate, a stable bond rating, an increase in the rainy day fund, a consistently balanced budget are all proof of my commitment to the fiscal health of our city.
We made other changes including my and everyone else’s favorite topic — take home city cars. Since I took office, I cut our fleet in half. The exciting events of last summer accelerated the issue and I implemented a policy — before city council did anything — to reduce the number again. There are 7 city vehicles total for city hall and three of them are emergency DPW trucks. The rest of city vehicles exist because of union contracts and we’ll address that in the next budget cycle.
We introduced new storm preparedness policies and procedures, having learned from the previous storms. We created new snow routes, we added GPS tracking to all our trucks to allow improved monitoring of streets, and we implemented training for DPW employees. Even though the last two storms weren’t as severe as last year’s blizzard, residents and the 65,000 people who come to Hartford everyday, have seen the difference.
And, maybe most critically, we are tackling one of Hartford’s historic issues. As you may know, the council president and I set up a task force to address Hartford’s inequitable tax structure. Folks on the task force are Gordon Scott, Rex Fowler, Oz Griebel, Matthew O’Connor, Timothy Sullivan. Now, let me say that if this issue were easy to solve it would have been solved already. But I want to be clear that we need the support of state legislators to get this done. Bt it’s time to move on and make the changes we know are right for the future of this capital city.
So, yes, a lot can happen in a year. This has been a year of transformation inside and out. We are not changing. We have changed.
So what can you expect for 2014? You can expect a lot of the same accelerated changes that you’ve seen.
The momentum you are witnessing in Hartford is urban transformation. Many cities have undergone this type of metamorphosis. The challenge is to continue moving forward in tandem with these changes, to recognize what is a part of the natural process and not become fixated on events that may momentarily appear to contradict growth.
The next time I talk to you, we’ll have a new superintendent, a new COO, a new director of finance.
The next time I talk to you, Infinity Hall will be here and you will see lots of construction. Several downtown buildings will have converted to housing, families will be living at 777 Main Street and the revitalization of downtown north will have begun. The intermodal triangle project will be over 50% complete, and a major component of the iQuilt plan — the greenwalk — with the relocated Gold Street and the new promenade along the northern edge of Bushnell Park will be complete.
We will be able to report on our new approach to marketing the lands that we have available. For the first time, we have hired a real estate broker to market Hartford and the land that is available for development. Shortly, we will launch a marketing campaign for downtown north or “Dono” as we are calling it. We will reach out to the developer community through a campaign involving media relations, social media, public relations, and event planning.
We will continue to develop a stronger line of communication with both residents and visitors alike. Marketing the assets of our 17 distinct neighborhoods is a huge priority. My team worked closely with the “Bid” and the MetroHartford Alliance on the creation and implementation of the “Hartford Has It” campaign designed to motivate city and regional residents to identify with Hartford and to feel a sense of pride and optimism about our capital city. I’m committed to getting our message out more efficiently and am happy to announce that my first city-wide newsletter is slated to be released next week.
You will see an even sharper increase in our beautification efforts. This spring we are launching our first and very aggressive citywide anti-litter campaign. We need to start treating this city just like it was our house. You wouldn’t tolerate people throwing garbage in your house and we won’t tolerate it in our house either.
This year we’re awarding ten fifty thousand dollar contracts to minority businesses to repair our sidewalks. If you’ve driven around Keney Park lately you may have noticed the DPW trucks busy at work. The park needs a breath of fresh air and the city is clearing out brush and litter, and increasing visibility. New park rangers now patrol the park each day and surveillance cameras have been deployed to catch any illegal dumping. Keney Golf Course is closed for the season to enable its repair and restoration. We’ll have it open in the spring of 2015. Our parks and golf courses, like many of other our natural resources have the potential to be a huge economic driver for our city.
This year you can expect some of the same creativity along with shared sacrifice that we’ve employed to get here. But still making the investments necessary to spur job growth, keep our city safe and keep our city competitive.
Now, I don’t want to paint a picture that everything is rosy and perfect. We all know that’s not true. We have a lot work to do. Change is hard and sometimes I think our city suffers from pessimism and low self-esteem. Sometimes I think we have to get out of our own way. But we’re on the right track. We’re fixing long-term problems. We’re thinking about the future, not short term political gain. To put all these pieces together requires leadership, commitment and strategy. That’s my job. That is and will be my focus.
So let me make a few more small announcements:
First, we’re investing in electronic permitting software that will bring us to the modern world. It will enable applicants to apply and pay for permits and licenses and track their status online, submit plans and documents for review, and receive feedback and approvals via the Internet. This will greatly reduce the need for paper to change hands, enabling the exchange of information and the delivery of city services to be quicker, more accurate and more accountable.
Second, the tax task force will be presenting their recommendations this week. We all know that our mill rate impedes investment in the capital city. Again, if these changes were simple, they would be done already. But we cannot continue to ignore the obvious. We cannot run if we have crutches. It’s time. And I will need the support of each and every one of you to push along any necessary changes. Both the council president and I support tackling this issue. We have and will continue working together on it.
Third, I expect between 1,500 and 2,000 construction jobs to come from our developments this year. We placed a mandate on developers that 25% of all construction jobs need to be Hartford residents and/or minority or women owned suppliers. We will be tracking those projects for compliance.
And finally, we will shortly announce that a major company will be relocating hundreds of jobs to the capital city in 2014.
What does that mean for us? It means more people earning livable wages, hopefully supporting themselves and their families. many families buy homes put their kids through college because they work here in the capital city. It proves what we know to be true; Hartford is the economic driver for the region.
So what is it that we’re working hard for? What is this “thing” that we’re aiming for?
It’s simply to be a great city. The city we’re supposed to be. A great city is a place to connect and feel connected. A great city is where individuals from the suburbs move to be surrounded by those who are open-minded and like them. Where people go for exposure to culture, arts, innovation and diversity. It’s where young people from the suburbs want to live when they leave their parents, where they go to find jobs, education, and stimulation. A great city has solid, convenient public transportation and walkability. It is easy to get in/out of and around. a great city feels safe and is well-lit.
A great city has a range of specialized schools for children with special needs, educational institutions for alternative career choices. A great capital city has mixed housing options. It has apartments that can be shared by roommates, affordable housing, and accessible housing on the periphery of its downtown or center.
A great city is the launch pad for the next celebrity chef and complex enough to inspire authors. A great city attracts entrepreneurs, innovators, people with ambition and diverse demographics. A great capital city feels energetic, faster than the suburbs and in keeping with new technology and ideas.
Guess, what? All of those items are areas we are working on, aggressively pushing to bring forth or already exist.
With your help we will be one of the best capital cities in this country.
Thank you! And I’ll see you all again next year!