- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - In the beginning, Waterbury’s dream of building a linear park along the banks of the Naugatuck was about luring people back to the river’s once-dead waters.

But in 2012, at the urging of urban planners, the city decided to expand its riverfront trail plan to include downtown by reinvigorating its fallow industrial corridor and a struggling business district.

The downtown proposal, if successful, will add 2.3 miles of riverside trail to the 2.2 miles to be built in the South End in 2015, leaving three miles of trail in the north to reach Watertown and Thomaston.

The 7.5-mile riverfront trail through Waterbury would tie into a 44-mile regional greenway that would hug the banks of the Naugatuck from Derby to Torrington.

But it is the links to Waterbury’s downtown that make this $28.8 million phase of the greenway concept so different, pushing it beyond mere recreation to incorporate an economic resurgence.

The links include a walking and bike path along a completely rebuilt Freight Street and a pedestrian bridge linking a proposed riverfront park to a refreshed train station and Library Park.

The city is spending $2.2 million in state and federal funds to double parking and restore a waiting area in the train station, and the state is spending $6.7 million to improve branch line signals.

Waterbury also is sprucing up Library Park, installing a public bathroom, repainting the band shell and turning it into the city’s go-to park for all festivals, like Brew Fest and Back-to-School expos.

The concept also calls for rebuilding and expanding Jackson Street along an abandoned rail bed under the Mixmaster, through a redesigned Freight Street, and north to West Main Street.

The new Jackson Street would intersect Freight between the MacDermid and Brass City Lumber properties, and empty out to West Main Street across from Heritage Auto Sales.

City officials believe this infusion will kick-start redevelopment of Freight Street, where they claim 60 acres of fallow industrial land awaits transformation into a mixed-use transit district.

Slowed by a weak economy, tainted by a century of industrial use, the city touts the ambitious plan as the “last major redevelopment opportunity with the potential for a transformative impact on the city.”

The city believes completion of a riverfront trail, a biking and walking path on Freight Street, expansion of Jackson Street and new mixed-use zoning will lead to private investment and redevelopment.

In seeking grants for the project, Waterbury predicts that completion will trigger creation of 1,900 to 3,800 new residential units downtown and along the river, mostly in the Freight Street area.

According to the consultants, people will be willing to pay more to live near the trail, as much as 4 percent more within a quarter mile and 2 percent more out to a half mile away.

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