Polishing Its Image

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Waterbury struggles to reclaim lost luster
When Waterbury's last brass mills shut down in the early 1980s, the city faced some tough times. By 1995 it faced a $55 million deficit. Enter Mayor Philip Giordano and a renewed vision. New police precincts and bicycle patrols helped decrease the city's overall crime rate from 1996 to 1997 by 11 percent and violent crime by nearly 17 percent. Budget cuts, privatizing the city's tax collection and boosting the pension fund by $18 million surpass last year's total of 14. And while employment dipped slightly by 0.6 percent, median income rose 9.5 percent.

Between 1995 and 1997, the gross Grand List increased by about $88 million and the city issued 83 demolition permits - third-highest in the state.

Over the last two years, more than 130 streets were repaved and a citywide neighborhood/street cleaning project continues.

Commercial and building projects completed or in the works include:

• The 1.2 million-square-foot, $160 million Brass Mill Center and Brass Mill Commons, home to four anchor stores, a 12-screen cineplex, 150 smaller specialty stores, four restaurants, a U.S. Post Office, a state Department of Motor Vehicles office and medical services by both Waterbury and St. Mary's hospitals, opened last fall. The opening created about 2,600 full- and part-time jobs and will generate as much as $4 million in local taxes annually. Offsite improvements on Union Street, Hamilton Avenue and Silver Street, as well as work at 17 intersections, river work and rebuilding two bridges is expected to cost in excess of $17 million. Built on a 87-acre site that used to house the Scovill Brass Works, one of the biggest brass factory complexes in the world, $35 million worth of environmental clean-up work continues.

• A $35 million new criminal courthouse will replace the old facility, which will be assigned to other judicial uses.

• The 99,000-square-foot Rowland Government Center will house about 400 state employees.

• Partnership 2000, a comprehensive plan to revitalize the city, received $31 million to renovate the Palace Theater, renovate parking garages and municipal lots, widen East Main Street from the Police Department to the mall, and contribute to downtown development.

A plan to acquire, demolish buildings and re-sell about 15 acres of property will depend on the results of environmental surveys.

Although few, perhaps, would ever describe the city as a tourist destination, but the “best kept secret in Waterbury” is probably the Mattatuk Museum, a virtual treasure throve of Waterbury history from its brass mills and rich industrial history to a look at the kinds of homes people lived in at various times since the early 1700s.

In addition, Timex Corp. is building a new 12,000-square-foot watch museum adjacent to the Brass Mill Center and the quirky Holy Land U.S.A. “park” on Slocum Road is one of roadsideamerica.com's most “unusual places to visit in America.”

Not everything is rosy, however.

Some residents and business owners are unhappy with the new sewage treatment plant and its $12.1 million budget. And during last year's election, personal attacks on Giordano and unsubstantiated allegations of “mob” ties of a company awarded a $100 million contract by the city created a stir.

All in all, the city seems to be on the comeback trail. And who knows, perhaps by the turn of the century it will regain some of its lost luster

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