Was it a demolition or a party?
It was tough to tell Monday morning at a ceremony to commemorate - and celebrate - the beginning of the demolition of the , the dilapidated and long-vacant former shopping plaza that occupies about 19 acres of land on Broad Street near the center of town. Dozens and dozens of residents turned out, and there was even singing and more than a few cheers to mark the occasion, lending the event a party-like atmosphere.
"This has been a longtime coming, and it just feels great to see it come down," said former Mayor Louis Spadaccini, who was one of the many guests who attended Monday morning's ceremony. "We're eliminating an eyesore in the center of our community."
Current Mayor Leo V. Diana echoed Spadaccini's remarks, praising the demolition as a "great day" for Manchester.
"Broad Street is going to be able to return to an economic, vital part of our town," Diana told Patch Monday. "We're going to be able to remove this huge eyesore."
Known as the Broad Street Parkade, the vacant retail spaces at the plaza that comprise 324, 330, 334 and 340 Broad St., once served as the hub of the town's commercial and retail center, but the opening of the Shoppes at Buckland Hills mall in 1990 began to draw many of the larger stores that occupied the space away from the area. The space has sat vacant for many years.
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In December of 2008, the Board of Directors expanded the Manchester Redevelopment Agency from five members to 12, and charged it with crafting a redevelopment plan for the area. The plan, adopted by the board in September of 2009, called for amendments to the area's zoning regulations to allow for residential and mixed-use developments, as well as significant infrastructure renovations to the Broad Street area to expand the streetscape for pedestrians and beautify the area by connecting it to Bigelow Brook and Center Springs Park. Still, no private developers expressed interest in tackling the redevelopment of the Broad Street Parkade.
So in November of 2009, voters approved a referendum question that gave the town the authority to spend up to $8 million on revitalization efforts in the area, including the ability to acquire property. The . Work on a joint project between the town and the state of Connecticut has also begun to reconstruct Broad Street itself.
"The biggest thing I think is that people can finally see that we're doing something," said , the owner of who chairs the redevelopment agency. "We've already had people call us and say 'when's it going to be ready.'"
As if to commemorate that this was an event that doesn't happen everyday in Manchester, Jerry O'Connor, one of the organizers of the and the husband of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce President Sue O'Connor, who also serves on the redevelopment agency, sang a song that he entailed "The Dark Side Demo Song."
"Tear it down! Tear it down! We're hear today to tear this building down!" O'Connor sang as a crane tore into the building that many in town wished would be laid flat for years.