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April 3, 2023 Editor’s Take

Bordonaro: Ignored ship bell reflects need to better embrace Hartford’s history

HBJ PHOTO | MICHAEL PUFFER The USS Hartford ship bell is located in Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford.

The Capital Region Development Authority — the quasi-public agency responsible for helping finance major downtown Hartford apartment projects — has a full plate on its hands.

It recently unveiled a $107.2-million plan to renovate the aging XL Center and is negotiating with Los Angeles-based sports and live entertainment company Oak View Group to help fund the much-needed investment as part of a public-private partnership.

It’s also overseeing the continued construction of a sports betting lounge within the XL Center, a project beset by supply chain-related delays.

CRDA is also negotiating a number of new apartment development deals amid a challenging economic environment, in which rising interest rates and supply chain bottlenecks have made financing harder to close and budgets more challenging to predict.

Greg Bordonaro

Given that significant project pipeline, it may leave some to question why CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth during a recent board meeting raised a new priority: moving a bell once attached to USS Hartford, the flagship of famous Civil War Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, to a more prominent place in the Capital City.

Freimuth told his board, according to HBJ reporter Mike Puffer, he recently stumbled upon the bell — located in a lonely corner of Hartford’s Constitution Plaza office park — during a walk and is now on a mission to move it to a location where it can serve as an identifiable city landmark.

One place under consideration is the nearby Connecticut Convention Center, which, according to a recent study, needs more “Instagramable” spaces — places that could identify Hartford in social media posts.

Should the CRDA spend time worrying about the proper location for an old ship bell?

That’s not for me to judge, but the fact that a historic artifact largely remains ignored in downtown Hartford is a missed opportunity. The city should do more to promote its vibrant arts and culture scene, which includes showcasing its ties to American history.

That’s how popular cities and towns create a “cool factor” that makes them desired places to live, work and play.

The city of Boston, which I’ve written about in several columns recently, is a perfect example. It doesn’t just embrace its history, it gives it a bear hug.

This month Boston will celebrate its annual Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War. The city marks the day with the running of the Boston Marathon and a rare morning Boston Red Sox game — celebrations that inject even more activity into a normally bustling city.

Part of the reason Boston is a tourist attraction is because it markets its place in American history. It’s part of that city’s charm and appeal.

Hartford should do more of that.

Hartford’s competitive advantage

On March 14, Hartford Business Journal hosted a real estate forum where a major focus was discussing ways to boost the city’s vibrancy.

One discussion topic was how to make Hartford’s nightlife scene as vibrant as West Hartford’s. The neighboring suburb of more than 64,000 residents has become one of the region’s premier foodie destinations. Many of its restaurants are crowded, no matter which night of the week.

One panelist pointed out that Hartford’s competitive advantage is its strong arts and culture base, including a wide range of theaters and museums that serve as economic drivers.

It dawned on me at that point that we should have had a theater or museum executive on the panel — again, another missed opportunity to make that industry a key part of the conversation.

Moving an old ship bell won’t change Hartford’s trajectory. It might not even create the Instagrammable space the Connecticut Convention Center desires.

But any efforts to promote and showcase the city’s history and build up its arts and culture bona fides, should be welcomed, no matter how small.

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