The Path To A Downtown New Britain Revival? Beehive Bridge

Don Stacom | The Hartford Courant

When the Main Street bridge makeover is finished late next year, the city will get a distinctive new landmark that will fuel downtown’s resurgence.

That’s the hope of city officials who gathered Friday afternoon to kick off the $7.5 million Beehive Bridge project.

With honeycomb-themed translucent sidewalls, bike lanes, ultra-wide sidewalks, four prominent sculpture honeybees and a massive metal beehive sculpture, the span is certain to be one of a kind.

“This is something our city will be defined by. You will think about the bees and what the beehive means to our city,” Mayor Erin Stewart told a crowd of about 60 at the goundbreaking.

“The Beehive Bridge will be uniquely New Britain, it will be an icon in your downtown and it will be something for all of us to be proud of,” predicted Ted DeSantos, an executive with Fuss & O’Neill, the engineering firm that’s designing the bridge.

“It will connect the Broad Street/Little Poland neighborhood to downtown, creating vibrancy, creating place,” DeSantos said.

Stewart’s administration has spent millions on reconstructing downtown streets, sidewalks and parks to generate a contemporary, inviting atmosphere. Speakers said Friday that the bridge is the latest step in that strategy.

“This is another critical building block. The three million riders a year who use CTfastrak is one, Central Park and the streetscapes, the Columbus Boulevard and this bridge are all critical pieces of helping to rebuilding New Britain and making it a very attractive place to be,” said Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments.

Some critics have complained that the impoverished city cannot afford such spending. But advocates say the city’s future will be strong if it can capitalize on CTfastrak and get new restaurants, stores and apartments to downtown.

Gerry Amodio, executive director of the Downtown District, said the change is already happening.

“New residential housing has and opened and it’s full, Central Connecticut State University has expanded its presence and commitment to downtown,” Amodio said.

“Just this month we opened two new restaurants and two new stores, and three properties were sold to developers who are bringing new investment dollars to our city,” he said. “This partnership between the city, the state and private organizations is essential to bringing the inner cities back and producing environments where people want to be.”

Public Works Director Mark Moriarty, who has built a reputation for redesigning the city’s car-centric street grid into a more bike-friendly system, predicted the bridge reconstruction will take until late 2019.

The bridge begins at the CTfastrak main station, and business leaders are excited about the prospect of drawing visitors to the city who could walk to the popular Little Poland section on the other side of Route 72.

“This project started on a piece of notebook paper that I had, having a crazy vision when I first became mayor of what it would take to transform downtown,” Stewart said.

“What could be the transformative project to tie downtown back together again,” she said. “When the highway was put in, it really split Main Street into two pieces — Broad Street, which thrived, and Main Street, which died.”

The current bridge, a functional but bland concrete structure with narrow sidewalks, isn’t something people would want to walk or cycle on, city officials have said.

The new version will have extensive LED lighting at night, and tan-, orange- and yellow-tinted translucent panels to shield pedestrians from wind. Those panels will create a series of color combinations on the pavement every day as the sun moves, designers said.

The bee theme is something Stewart has promoted for years. New Britain’s city seal from 1871 shows seven bees buzzing around a hive. The bees represent the city’s original seven industries.

“The bees have very important significance in the city,” she said. “Underneath that beehive there’s a slogan in Latin that says, ‘Industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey’ — an ode to the worker bees who made the city what it was and what it is today.”

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