Hartford’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Challenge announced its winners at the end of May 2015. The SC2 Challenge is a crucial part of the SC2 Initiative, which is working to promote and improve economic development in cities throughout the United States.
The SC2 Challenge’s goal was to help cities benefit from innovative business concepts for creating economic development plans and putting them into action. A total of $800,000 of award money funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration was shared by the winning teams.
Hartford Rocks, LLC received a fifth place, $50,000 award for its business plan that promotes economic development, encourages social interactions and supports changing transportation dynamics.
Innovation Destination: Hartford met with Hartford Rocks team leader John Gale, a Hartford-based attorney, to discuss his goal of making Hartford a fun place where it’s great to be.
IDH: Tell us about Hartford Rocks and how your team was formed.
GALE: I am constantly thinking of ways to make Hartford better—wondering how to mix it up and get it going and what we, as a community, can do to grow Hartford and make it more fun. Rory suggested getting involved in the SC2 Challenge and we built the team around others with a tremendous interest in Hartford.
The team includes Avery Buell, Senior Vice President, Wealth Advisor at Morgan Stanley; Aurelia (Rory) Gale, Owner and Creative Director at Hartford Prints!; Pedro Bermudez, Director and Co-Founder of Revisionist; Carrie Thompson, Construction/Real Estate Accountant and Realtor; Bruce Thompson, Professional Engineer, retired; Nat Gale, Program Director Great Streets Initiative, Mayor’s Office, City of Los Angeles; and Tracy Thompson Gale, Registered Nurse.
Everyone on the team has strong Hartford connections. We are very interrelated and extremely committed. We put intense time and energy into our proposal.
IDH: How did Hartford Rocks get the idea for its business concept?
GALE: At first, we had different ideas for how to respond to the SC2 Challenge. My initial idea was to build a Hartford Expo modeled after a mini world fair. I thought we could use the land that is now being used for the Downtown North (DoNo) project. Once DoNo was underway, we had to let go of that idea and come up with something else.
We took the same expo idea elements and came up with the #lovehartford concept, which involves creating a walkable entertainment and retail district—like Hartford’s version of New York City’s High Line.
IDH: Can you describe the #lovehartford proposal?
GALE: We created a blueprint for the city. The long-term plan is to build out the city of Hartford and connect the districts between the Riverfront and Hartford Union station.
IDH: Why do you feel retail is important to the city of Hartford?
GALE: A city needs a retail district to be vibrant. We’re creating Hartford’s 5th Avenue—except our retailers would be individual artisans and local companies that are unique to Hartford. The concept is to give Hartford character and provide economic development. The retail becomes the economic generator.
IDH: How do you plan to use the SC2 Challenge award money?
GALE: Hartford Rocks was awarded $10,000 in Phase I, which the team used pay an architect to picture a passway through the XL Center, produce symposia at the Hartford Public Library on high-speed internet and automated cars, paint a mural on a building on Main Street in downtown, and create a one-day food truck district on Prospect Street.
Right now we’re holding onto our Phase II award money to see how we can use it to best help the city of Hartford.
IDH: Where do you see the future of the #lovehartford business concept?
GALE: Our long-term plan is for the next 20 years. These plans include closing streets in Hartford to through traffic and making them open to pedestrians at certain specific times, expanding the city’s transportation system to include bike sharing and a bus line and extended rail system, implementing driverless cars, and creating a food truck district and pop-up markets.
The long-term impact is to build up downtown Hartford with a combination of tech enterprise and retail growth enterprise and make it spill over into surrounding neighborhoods.
Harvard economist Edward Glaeser said it best: “The most successful economic development policy is to attract and retain smart people and then get out of their way.” We see that young entrepreneurs are motivated by place and they want to go to a place where they can make a difference. I think that, with some infrastructure changes and other additions, Hartford can become that place.
IDH: What is the best thing about living and working in the Greater Hartford region?
GALE: I’ve lived in Hartford since 1959 and spent the last 38 years working in the city. I love the community and the diversity. Everyone feels a part of the same thing. And I love seeing downtown Hartford bring us all together.