State of the City 2014
Thank you, and of course I would like to thank you all of you for attending today’s event.
Congratulations are in order for Jeff Levine, and his team at Levine Automotive, as the recipient of the Cecil J. Previdi Award. As mayor of the City of Danbury I am proud to see Jeff and his business flourish in the greater Danbury area. To quote Jeff: “Customer service has to be extraordinary.” For decades, Levine Automotive, located in the heart of our city, has delivered extraordinary customer service. Indeed, he has set the standard of how to grow and manage a family oriented business in a complex and demanding marketplace.
Congratulations to Jeff, his wife Ann, and their family for a job well-done.
Ladies and gentlemen, Danbury works because we all work together, regardless of party, to move the agenda of our community forward each and every day.
Business growth and development:
Today I am proud to report that we have had another strong year of new business growth and development in the City of Danbury.
By almost every measurement Danbury leads the state in vital economic statistics. Through October Danbury has reported 70,200 non-farm jobs, reflecting an increase of 1,800 non-farm jobs year-over-year, our unemployment rate stands at 4.9 percent (the lowest of any major city in the state) and has dropped a full percentage point year-over-year.
Western Connecticut Health Network has opened it’s 300,000-square-foot expansion at Danbury Hospital, Western Connecticut State University has completed its new performing arts center, the Army has finished the new Army Reserve center at Lee Farm, and the Danbury Fair Mall has filled its openings with many diverse businesses.
Dozens of small and medium-sized businesses have opened throughout Danbury. Just about every week our Director of Economic Development, Bruce Toumala, Steve Bull, JoAnn Cueva and I attend another ribbon-cutting of a new business in our city.
The Matrix Corporate Center continues to recruit new employers to their facility. Specifically, this year we welcomed offices of New Oak Credit Services and the East Coast Athletic Conference.
Perosphere, a new start-up biomedical business, has formally opened on Kenosia Avenue.
Addivant, a global manufacturer of plastics, has opened its new corporate headquarters here in Danbury.
Colonial Subaru has relocated to the former Robert Buick site on Newtown Road. The $12.2 million project includes a 31,000-square-foot showroom and a parts and service facility for 60 employees.
After a decade-long process, Mannkind has received final approval from the FDA for its insulin product, Afrezza. This new product will be manufactured in Danbury, resulting in the hiring of hundreds more employees over the next several years.
Belimo Air Controls -- in an expansion that will add hundreds of new jobs to Danbury -- has begun operations in their brand new 120,000-square-foot building. This is by far the largest economic development in Western Connecticut and is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the region.
In 2015 we can expect a continuation of our strong economic growth.
A few of the economic development projects coming in 2015:
Cartus has announced a $15.4 million expansion, representing a commitment to stay in Danbury.
Praxair selected Danbury for its new world headquarters -- a $70 million investment in our community.
Regional Hospice will open its doors on the Westside of our city, adding 35 new jobs and providing critical care for those who need it.
Doctors Express has invested $1 million to open the doors on Mill Plain Road of their second location in Danbury.
These will be tremendous economic developments coming in 2015, all in the context of a challenging business environment. Of course I would like to take all the credit for it, but the reality is that things happen because of you -- the wonderful, hard-working business community of Western Connecticut and, of course, this wonderful Chamber of Commerce, its members and its leadership.
Main Street continues to be a focus of our economic development strategy as well.
In past years, the Danbury Main Street Partnership has shepherded many regulatory changes through the City Council and has worked to open a dialogue with Main Street stakeholders.
We’ve hired a full-time Main Street Enforcement Officer for the UNIT – the Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team -- to focus on quality-of-life issues.
We have reinstituted Danbury Police foot patrols on Main Street on a permanent basis to provide a stronger security presence.
We’ve reduced permit fees, sewer connection fees, and zoning permit fees for new businesses on Main Street. We’ve also added new tax incentives to spur development along Main Street.
We have renovated Kennedy Park and improved the Farmer’s Market.
We have purchased the house next to the Danbury Police Station and are in the design stages of a new pocket park dedicated to the public safety workers who gave their lives protecting our residents.
We have completed a new downtown innovation center that is attached to our library on Main Street and that hosts a business-mentoring center staffed by SCORE --as well as a cafe that will be opening in January.
The Palace Theater has become very active with well-attended musical shows and revivals, including a live holiday show by former American Idol Kimberley Locke.
Just last month, Greystar started construction of 347 luxury apartment units on the Kennedy Avenue site. The developer believes that they will be out of the ground by the end of March and ready for occupancy by 2016.
Last month the State of Connecticut approved $4 million for a medical building on the site of the old police station at 120 Main St.
Just last week, Naugatuck Valley Community College announced its intent to relocate to 183 Main St., the Pershing Building at the corner of West and Main streets.
With its move to this new location, Naugatuck will also be tripling its space, adding classrooms, computer labs, a science lab, a large multi-purpose room, library, and student lounge. This will allow for more students and add more activity on our Main Street.
With cooperation of the Board of Education, the City of Danbury has completed a number of educational improvement projects.
This past year we completed expansion of three elementary schools, and in an historic first, the city opened the Westside Middle School Academy, a new middle school for Danbury focusing on science, technology, engineering, math and international studies. Significantly, these projects were accomplished on time and under budget by several million dollars.
In 2001 when I ran for mayor, I promised all-day kindergarten for all of Danbury’s parents, and starting this school year I am proud to report that every parent has had the option of all-day kindergarten for their children.
Our investments in education in Danbury are working. Test scores are on the upswing across the district; just yesterday we celebrated Shelter Rock Elementary School’s recognition by ConnCan for its exceptional work in closing the achievement gap. This was a school that several years ago was rated as “failing,” and is now one of the strongest schools in our district.
Earlier in the year, another one of our elementary schools, the Western Connecticut Academy of International Studies, was recognized as the “Elementary School of the Year” in Connecticut.
In the coming year we are working a number of initiatives and infrastructure projects as well.
In October we announced a new public/private partnership that will reopen the Boughton Street YMCA as a community center that will also provide stability and capital improvements for the War Memorial, as well as more opportunities for preschool education.
Today I am proud to announce that the YMCA has accepted an offer for the building and we anticipate approval of funding by the State of Connecticut.
Earlier this year the City Council voted to sell a piece of property that the city owned on Old Ridgebury Road. The use of the property will be extremely low-impact, but there were some concerns that a soccer league that used the field would be displaced by the impending sale.
Today I am proud to report that the purchaser of the property has graciously agreed to hold off on development of the property and allow the children to continue use the athletic field until a replacement field can be built.
After much analysis we have selected the field between Mill Ridge Primary School and the Westside Middle School Academy to be renovated into an artificial field that will accommodate soccer, lacrosse, and other sports.
In addition, we will use the proceeds of the Old Ridgebury Road sale to enhance recreational opportunities for our children with new basketball courts. We are also adding hiking trails on the Farrington Property located just off Exit 2.
As I mentioned earlier, Naugatuck Valley has become a strong partner with the City of Danbury.
Further linking Naugatuck Valley Community College and its new campus with the students of the City of Danbury is a concept that we would like to explore.
Later in the year, NVCC is expanding its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Certificate program in Danbury at Henry Abbott Technical High School. This will be an evening program that will leverage the assets of Abbott Tech and NVCC to provide manufacturing skills that our local companies are looking for.
We would like to create a similar program with Danbury High School that would match 100 students with employers and NVCC as well. The goal is an Early College Academy that will allow our students to have real-world experience through internships with local companies, while earning a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time.
Creative programming is important for economic success, but we are also planning a sweeping redesign of Danbury High School.
This new called initiative will be called DHS2020.
Specifically, we will be presenting to our 2020 School Committee and our Board of Education an addition of approximately 110,000-square-feet at the back of the building for a facility we will call the Freshman Academy. This will allow us to keep our ninth graders segregated from the upper grades and allow for much-needed space for our students. The bottom floor of the building will be a new gym and locker room complex and the cafeteria will be enclosed to accommodate separate dining for the ninth grade.
We are also proposing the front of Danbury High be redesigned to accommodate security needs and create a more welcoming environment as well as a new school store for our marketing students.
The auto shop that sits outside the main building will be redesigned as a venue to accommodate both visual arts and performing arts. The new arts center will address the need for a community cultural center that can accommodate smaller events and alleviate the need to open up the entire high school building for a performance.
Finally, we will outfit the Freshman Academy addition with solar panels, to increase energy efficiency, and replace the entire high school roof.
DHS2020 will encompass programming, athletics, the arts, and state-of-the-art energy efficiency. It will be an investment in our public school system that will result in higher property values and, most importantly, better-educated children.
In the coming year I will ask the City Council for the authority to purchase our street lights from the power company. This will allow us to convert the lights to LED lighting for greater energy efficiency. But we will do more than that with this acquisition.
When completed we will provide free Wifi in the Downtown Revitalization Zone. Students at Naugatuck Valley Community College, Western Connecticut State, patrons of the library, and downtown businesses will be able to access free Wifi at key locations throughout CityCenter.
Finally, ConnectHatCity also has a safety component as well. Through an opt-in process, residents and police will be able to track wayward loved ones, lost children, and missing pets almost anywhere in the 44 square miles of our city.
Last year at this event I mentioned to you that we would migrate to a centralized civilian dispatch center for the Police and Fire departments.
Today, I am proud to report to you that we will begin Phase One of this project in January with civilian staffing of the front desk operations of the Police Station, and by mid-March, the new Western Connecticut 911 dispatch center will go live. This is a huge culture change for our public safety system, and sets the stage for an eventual migration to a regional 911 call center.
For the end-user of our services, you will see three more patrol cars on the street per shift. This represents a $1 million-per-year increase of proactive policing for our community. Residents will see quicker response times by our police, more traffic enforcement, and a greater emphasis on quality-of-life enforcement.
On the budgeting side, after an initial two- to three-year up-front investment, our taxpayers will see a significant savings driven by a reduction in overtime, and a reduction of staffing through attrition.
City of The Future:
Over the past year our management team has been meeting with our consultants, Blum Shapiro, as we begin to shape the Danbury of tomorrow -- what we are calling SmartGov. We are diligently working on the vision with an understanding that there are and will be tremendous pressures to deliver city services and education services with limited resources.
The times demand a new way of delivering services. The notion of a city with independent departments – each in its own silo -- will begin to fall away as we work toward a team approach.
Part of this process has been an assessment of our current situation. Some people in our organization long for the “good old days,” but the reality is that the past is done. We honor the past but we also must think in new ways.
To be a City of the Future we will have to put in place more than 50 organizational changes along with dozens of new projects and realignments. It’s part of the “big swing” that I mentioned last year during this speech.
Team Danbury will require your patience. We will roll out these changes slowly, to get staff, elected officials, and residents comfortable with our new processes.
In 2015 we will start with what I call the 10 Quick Hits for Change, the low-hanging fruit, that we can implement right away. Look for them in our next city budget.
And speaking of budget, we will do everything we can to keep your taxes low. Today I can pledge to you that there will be no increases to our sewer and water rates in the next fiscal year.
I brag about our city: Danbury is on fire! We are seeing projects and development ideas all over the city. The challenge that we will have in 2015 will be managing our growth to preserve our quality of life -- not attracting development.
We are a Triple AAA community with the lowest crime rate and the lowest unemployment rate in Connecticut. We should all be proud of those facts.
I’ve never been more excited about our future. Danbury is blessed with tremendous assets, a first-rate hospital, a world-class university, a vibrant arts community that encourages a sharing of ideas, a public safety system with metrics that are the envy of any city in Connecticut, and an economy that is booming.
Speaking of Western Connecticut State University, I want to express a public thank you to Dr. Jim Schmotter for his many years of dedicated service to the university. Dr. Schmotter has announced his retirement effective in July. We wish him well, and I want to thank him for creating a true town-gown relationship.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are a community with people who hail from all over the world: a diverse community that is a model of common understanding, trust, and compassion.
For the past 13 years I have been honored to be your mayor. Each day when I wake up and go to work I am excited about our future.
The job has its ups and downs, but as I remarked to a resident the other day, I have been incredibly lucky: I get paid to do something that I love.
As I look around this room I see people I have come to truly admire and respect. I see self-made business people, entrepreneurs, public servants and professionals. I see the people that have made Danbury and Western Connecticut flourish.
Today, as we are on the eve of gathering with our loved ones for the holidays, with the scent of a new snowfall in the air, warm fires, and a chill of the Northeast wind at our backs. Let us revel in the time spent with our family and friends.
As we engage in the hustle and the bustle of the holiday weekend that is before us, I ask that we take a quiet moment on Sunday, 12-14, to rededicate ourselves to the Newtown Way.
That is the simple statement made by Newtown in the face of unimaginable pain:
That love always wins -- always.
Ladies and Gentlemen, that is the true meaning of the season.
My friends, that is the State of our City in the year of 2014.
May God Bless you and May God Bless our America.