Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Opinion: The Mayor’s Proposal to Move St. Vincent de Paul To 51 Green St.

Submitted by the leadership of Middletown Green Community Center, Inc.; Jeff Hush, Executive Director, Kris Kolstad, Chairman of the Board, and Joan Hedrick, Member of the Board.
Editor's note: Background article: St. Vincent DePaul To Be Awarded Green Street School.

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On March 4, the Middletown Common Council will vote on the proposal of Mayor Drew to award St. Vincent de Paul the city property at 51 Green Street, which formerly housed the Green Street Arts Center.   The Mayor turned down the proposal of a grass-roots coalition, the Middletown Green Community Center (MGCC), to preserve the community center and expand the arts focus of the previous center to include technology and health.

The desire of the business community to move St. Vincent de Paul off Main Street has a long and contentious history going back to the 1990s.  Thus when Wesleyan University indicated privately to Mayor Drew that it was going to withdraw its support for the Green Street Arts Center, the Mayor and Joe Samolis, the City Planner, approached Ron Krom, the Director of St. Vincent de Paul, and offered him the building at 51 Green Street.  The city issued a request for proposals for the re-use of 51 Green Street, but it appears that from the Mayor’s point of view the outcome was already clear.

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The Mayor’s proposal would destroy a valuable community resource that has stabilized the North End, a fragile low-income neighborhood.  Fourteen years ago Wesleyan University, desiring to contribute to the community and to provide a way for their students to mentor low-income children, invested upwards of 1.3 million dollars in this property which the city owns, turning a former primary school into an arts center with a theater, all-purpose rooms, spaces for dry art and wet art, a sound studio, and a pristine dance studio with beautiful polished floors and mirrors.  Does it make economic sense to destroy a $1.3 million-dollar cultural asset?  The biggest damage of course is to the community and to the youth of the North End, who would no longer have a safe place to go after school, who would no longer be exposed to experiences and skills that expand their minds and hearts and lead them to productive lives in the community. 
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It is unfortunate that two vulnerable communities—the patrons of St. Vincent de Paul and the
residents of the North End—have been pitted against one another.   St. Vincent de Paul’s staff under the leadership of Ron Krom have provided much needed support for the homeless and hungry.  That they want to expand their services is admirable.  But consider the impact this move would have on the residents of Ferry St. and Green St.  The cost of destroying a community center and destabilizing an at-risk residential community is high.   Would it not make more sense to look for another space into which St. Vincent de Paul could move, such as the empty St. John School, or to create additional space in annexes close by their present location? 

Instead of pitting a soup kitchen and a community center against one another, how about tabling the Mayor’s proposal and working to develop a way to support both?  The Middletown Green Community Center has wide community support and many willing partners, such as Russell Library, NEAT, and Afropop Worldwide.   We would  welcome city support as well, and several members of the Common Council have raised the possibility of the city  sharing some of the space in 51 Green Street by, for example, putting Youth Services there, to free up space in the Municipal Building and to help MGCC carry the expenses of running 51 Green St.

 It is up to the Middletown Common Council to make a decision that is in the best interests of the community—the whole community and not just the business community.  There will be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on this issue at the Monday, March 4 Common Council Meeting in City Hall at 7 p.m.


Jeff Hush, Executive Director, MGCC
Kris Kolstad, Chairman of the Board of MGCC
Joan Hedrick, Member of the Board of MGCC

Middletown Green Community Center, Inc.

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