The city of Hartford, Connecticut, is planning changes around its new downtown baseball stadium.
This once-busy, historic North End neighborhood now has a lot of vacant lots and boarded-up buildings. Hartford residents are thinking about what should come next, what the area needs and what might be lost.
Jada Henderson lives in Hartford’s South End, but comes near the baseball stadium to shop at a beauty supply store near Albany Avenue and Main Street. It’s one of the few businesses in the area recently renamed Downtown North, which is missing a lot of other neighborhood basics.
“Clothing places, more food places around here, there’s not really nothing to eat around here, that much,” Henderson said. “Somewhere you can sit down and stuff.”
Developers have until March 1 to submit plans for what they want to build on a number of pieces of land in the area. The city wants to see a mix of retail and housing, in line with an original vision that so far hasn’t panned out.
For Henderson, the stadium itself is not all bad, especially since it used to be a parking lot.
“I think that was a good thing to have over here,” she said. “I think that was something to make the environment look nicer.”
But you have to pay to go to the stadium, and the minor league baseball season lasts less than half the year.
Henderson said she sees a lot of kids out on the street in this neighborhood, and wonders if there’s enough for them.
“I think there should be more things for children to do, like the youth and stuff, more activities or something,” she said. “So they can get out of the streets more, something that is fun for them.”
Candy Easterling has seen this neighborhood change through the years. She said the drug dealing is much more out in the open now.
“Where do kids go play at? Because the drug dealers took all the streets in the hoods,” she said. “Where is it safe, except for the Y? You gotta pay for that. That ain’t free.”
Easterling said new development around the stadium could help, and might provide job opportunities, especially for young people.
“It shouldn’t be no reason for people to be hungry here, and homeless,” she said. “This is Hartford, the capital.”
Down Main Street is a thrift store in the San Juan Center, directly across from the ballpark. The door and its barred windows are painted bright blue.
Deborah Stephens was inside helping out recently, visiting from Philadelphia. She said the new development offers a chance to help not just young people, but also seniors.
“Maybe some sort of exercise programming?” Stephens said. “Or maybe even some businesses that cater to low-income folks, because that’s what this area is. You have to go to the mall if you have to really shop. If you don’t have a car, you have to ride maybe two buses.”
Behind the thrift shop, Fernando Betancourt keeps an office. He runs the San Juan Center, a social service agency. He said it’s “almost neglectful” that for more than 30 years, this formerly thriving area has been reduced to so many vacant lots.
“You can see miles and miles where you don't have a potential cleaners, or you don't have food, or you don't have grocery store,” he said. “The need is huge.”
And a little bit of new development, he said, will be a magnet for more business.
On his corner of Main Street, Betancourt said he has a plan for more retail space on his first floor. And he wants to build apartments upstairs.
“There is a potential here to have a combination of affordable housing, but also market rate, because we don't want to concentrate poverty, or low-income, in any particular area,” he said. “It's the opposite. We want to mix it up.”
By mixing it up, he said, the neighborhood can attract more people who have money to spend.
That might be part of any economic development plan, but it’s also the thing that worries current residents and business owners.
Marquan Lee thinks the city of Hartford is not paying enough attention to what the neighborhood says it needs.
“Just because it’s a positive fit to -- I wanna say, the big guns -- doesn’t mean it’s a positive fit for the neighborhood,” Lee said. “Just because it’s beneficial to the city, it might not be beneficial to the community around it.”
And despite all its needs, Lee said the neighborhood is strong -- with what he described as a lot of "love inside the community." He just doesn’t think people see that side of it.