Danbury's downtown streetscape project begins to lay 'foundation' for economic boost

Photo of Julia Perkins

DANBURY — The city hopes new sidewalks will be the ingredient the downtown needs to flourish.

“If you have a good-looking, thriving downtown, what it does is it brings other investments here,” Mayor Joe Cavo said.

That’s been Danbury officials’ mantra for years, but work on the roughly $12 million project to replace sidewalks and add amenities, such as trees and planters, in downtown is finally beginning.

The city held a ceremonial groundbreaking on the $1.9 million first phase of this streetscape project on Monday, but Colonna Concrete Masonry is expected to start on Delay Street next week.

“That will be exciting,” said Sharon Calitro, the city’s planner. “They are in much need of replacement.”

The project is meant to “beautify” downtown and replace sidewalks that were last upgraded in the 1990s, Cavo said. In turn, this will attract developers and businesses to downtown, he said.

“It brings other opportunities for people to say, ‘Hey Danbury’s got a great thing going on downtown and we want to be apart of it,’” Cavo said. “They'll move their business here — and with their businesses come jobs, so we can get Danburians employed. It's a great cycle if all the ingredients are right and things work.”

The Greater Chamber of Commerce moved its office from across from City Hall to the Danbury Green in 2019 as a sign of support for the project.

“We wanted to plant our flag right in the middle of downtown Danbury because we do believe there is a potential for growth down there,” said P.J. Prunty, president and CEO of the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce.

He suspects the project will have a “domino effect,” attracting businesses across the city, he said.

“It’s a great investment,” Prunty said. “The reality is: business like to invest in cities that invest in themselves. This streetscape project, it’s really a good foundation, quite literally, to build off of.”

Included in the first phase is redoing the Danbury Green and installing streetscape on Delay Street, National Place, Railroad Place, Ives Street, and parts of White Street and Post Office Walk. It should be done in September.

The second phase calls for streetscape on both sides of Main Street — from St. Peter’s Church to the former News-Times building where 150 apartments are under construction. Patriot Drive, Independence Way, Liberty Street and Kennedy Park are included, too.

“It’s a much bigger area, so it’s a little more complicated,” said Calitro, adding the second phase would hopefully start next year.

Next steps

Construction on the first phase was supposed to begin last year, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the state appearing to be at the tail end of the crisis, the timing is right for the project, Cavo said.

“It can be a great opportunity for everybody coming out of the pandemic,” he said.

Existing businesses are excited about the project too, said Angela Wong, executive director of CityCenter Danbury, which supports the downtown merchants.

Wong said she has seen more people walking downtown this spring compared to earlier in the pandemic.

“People want to be out and about,” she said. “They’re discovering some of the new things that opened and enjoying what we have here.”

Through COVID-19, the downtown has added business like ItadakiMÁS and Gomez Bakery. Meanwhile, Empire of the Incas upgraded its facade thanks to a grant from the city.

Over the years, CityCenter has brought art downtown and held events like summer concerts and the Taste of Danbury festival to attract consumers. The organization will step up these efforts this summer by offering live music, outdoor markets, table tennis and other attractions to get people to return downtown after COVID.

To further entice people to downtown, the city is looking to create a transportation center near the Metro-North train station, Calitro said. This would involve moving the Pulse Point bus stop on Kennedy Avenue closer to the station on Patriot Drive.

The proposal to create a faster train ride from Danbury to Grand Central Station in New York would be “phenomenal” for the area, too, Calitro said.

The city will continue to explore how zoning changes could encourage development and work with CityCenter to support downtown merchants, she said.

“It’s [the streetscape project] not the single solution, but it's a great first step in being able to make positive momentum in downtown Danbury,” Prunty said.