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ECONOMIC BACKGROUND FOR THE PLAN

Middletown's growth is obviously dependent on its economic progress. The City has four potential sides to its economic base.

  1. Manufacturing, employing more people than any other activity. the Plan allocates 1,600 acres to industry. Middletown must take steps to make its land and facilities especially attractive to industry.
  2. Retail business and services catering to the surrounding region. This requires a strong central business district, well designed to provide eventually a million square feet of floor space, along with adequate parking space and good access.
  3. Middletown's institutions, with their substantial payrolls. The increased activities proposed at Wesleyan will be reflected in added employment and commercial growth, including more facilities for transients.
  4. Middletown's potential as a center of distributive business and as the location of business offices.

Elements in the Economic Base
A community must earn its collective living, just like any individual. Approximately 40 percent of Middletown's employed residents derive their livelihood from industrial activities, but some of these work outside the City. Another 26 percent are engaged in commercial activities, retail trade and services. The third major sector of Middletown's community income comes from activities (or more specifically the payrolls) of the institutions located here. The plan for future development must provide space and a good environment for the continued progress of these parts of the economic base. We are concerned now with determining how much land and what kind should be allocated to manufacturing, and other types of industry, to retail commerce and service trades and to institutions or similar organizations which may contribute to the community's income.

In connection with the Community Renewal Program, under urban renewal, a detailed economic study of land utilization and marketability has been made by Messrs. Raymond and May, consultants to the Middletown Redevelopment Agency. This study was primarily designed to show the acreage of land which is likely to be required to fill the needs of residential, industrial and commercial expansion to 1980. At that date the City may be assumed to reach a population approaching 45,000, something like two thirds of the ultimate figure envisioned by the present planning study, to be achieved by the end of this century. The Raymond and May report* gives the following estimates of potential acreage demand to 1980:
 Housing 1,200 acres
 Industry  160 acres
 Retail  14 acres
 Other Commercial  7 acres

Industrial Land
The purpose of the Community Renewal Program study has been to gauge the probable market demand for land, whereas it should be the purpose of the City's long-range plan to provide space for the maximum expansion which can be foreseen. In the matter of industrial land, the Plan provides far mare space than the estimated 1980 demand given by the Community Renewal Plan Study. The amount of land which one town can allocate to industry is not determined by local policy alone. The average plant could equally well br located in any of a number of neighboring communities which are actually in competition with each other in attracting a prospective enterprise. Therefore, there is no formula on which to base the number of acres of land to be planned for industry in Middletown.

It is apparent that the Connecticut towns collectively have planned and zoned for industrial development of a total acreage far in excess of what can be reasonably be expected to be required at any time in the foreseeable future. Many will be disappointed in the large amount of proposed industrial land which will remain vacant. Proposed industrial areas will become developed in the order of their relative desirability to the prospective occupant. While criteria for site selection may vary with the type of use, the principal factors are convenient transportation, available labor and necessary utilities. The State's expressway system brings good highway connections to many points in Connecticut. Similarly, it facilitates the travel of employees, which results in making a much larger pool available to a single location than may be locally resident.

Our present plan allocates a total of about 1,600 acres for new industrial development, in addition to the very large areas in the southeast corner now under the control of the utility companies, a quarry and the United States government. The proposed acreage has convenient access to the expressway system. How much these acres will appeal to industrial concerns and how rapidly they will be developed will depend greatly on the facilities for water supply and sanitary sewerage to be furnished by the City. Middletown has certain advantages over the rural towns in the matter of public utilities, since it has the municipal organization already in existence and can readily extend its services. This is discussed in the chapter on Water Supply and Sanitary Sewerage.

The Community Renewal Program report estimate of 160 acres of industrial land to be the demand up to the year 1980 is based on a review of various factors in the recent trends of industrial growth. But in the competitive market today, the City must be able to offer a considerable choice to any prospective purchasers. There must be enough land to meet even a considerably larger demand, up to the planning target date of 2000, than could appear certain today from the trends of the last few years. Another reason to allocate a large amount of land for industry is to spread the ownership and to prevent a small number of owners from jeopardizing the City's promotional activities by refusing to sell except at exorbitant figures.

If all of the proposed industrial acreage shown on the plan is fully developed by the year 2000, and even if the average of workers per acre falls to a low figure of 10, there would be a total of around 16,000 jobs or something like 3.5 times the number in Middletown today. As the population is expected to double in the same period, this would place Middletown in the position of an employment center bringing in workers who reside in other towns, whereas today a certain number of Middletown workers must go outside for employment. This situation would tens to increase population in neighboring towns, which would give more strength to Middletown as a retail and service center.

Middletown as a Commercial Center
Unlike the trends of industrial development, the volume of commercial activities and the amount of land they will need will bear a close relationship to the future population of Middletown and of its surrounding region. The Land Use and Marketability Study of Raymond and May gives much data on the present commercial development and includes estimates of future demand to 1980. Their report includes a tabulation of existing retail floor space by retail categories within the City (1963). The central business district contains 37.1 percent of the total retail floor area, while 15.3 percent is located in the Washington Street business district. The remaining 47.6 percent is located in the rest of the City, much of it in the South Main Street area.

In the categories of general merchandise, apparel, furniture and home furnishings, 83 percent of the floor area is located in the central business district. The floor area presently occupied by these categories in the central business district amounts to 326,000 square feet. Raymond and may estimate that there will be a demand between now and 1980 for an additional 172,000 square feet for these three types of retail business. This is in addition to the new Sears Roebuck store.

Food stores occupy a total floor area of 106,000 square feet, of which only about one quarter is located in the central business district. Raymond and May estimate that an additional 30,000 square feet will be required for food stores. Undoubtedly, most of these will not be in the central district. Drug and proprietary stores account for 15,575 square feet of floor area in the City, of which 75 percent is in the central business district. The potential growth to 1980 is estimated at 7,000 square feet, 5,000 square feet of this total in the central area. Eating and drinking places occupy a total of 72,000 square feet, of which 45 percent is in the central business district. Raymond and May estimate a demand of 1980 for 19,000 additional square feet. Something like half of this total might be in the central business district.

Automotive businesses, including gas stations, occupy large amount of floor space, about 800,000 square feet in the City. Only about 150,000 square feet of the total is in the central business district. Raymond and May estimate a potential demand to 1980 in these categories of 265,000 square feet of additional floor area. Doubtless most of this will be outside the central area.

The category which includes lumber, building materials and hardware occupies a total floor area of 295,000 square feet, of which, 122,000 are in the central district. Raymond and May estimate that 100,000 square feet of additional floor space will be required to 1980. The nature of this business makes it probable that most of the new floor area will be located outside the central area.

There is evidence that Middletown's position as a retail trade center has been slipping. it has not retained its former high rate of sales per capita in relation to State and regional averages. On the other hand, the volume of retail and service business is very important in the economic base as shown by the amount of employment in that sector. The City is faced with the competition of outside shopping centers which are being established at strategic points where traffic conditions are favorable. In particular, the present central business district suffers from many obsolescent structures, traffic congestion and deficiency of parking. However, Middletown has the advantage of being a long-established commercial center for an area which is now growing rapidly.

Middletown has taken certain steps to improve its commercial position, especially through the urban renewal program. The improvements brought about by the Center Street Project and the establishment of the Sears Roebuck retail outlet point the way to continued progress. But the City and its business interests must take very prompt action to capture as large a part as possible of the potential regional market.

A central business district of the type which is possible in Middletown has a pulling power which is not likely to be found in any but a very large outlying shopping center. The central district contains more stores with a greater variety of goods than is possible in the typical outlying center. It has a certain backlog of customers from the residents of the in-town neighborhoods.

Middletown's central district would suffer very adversely from the spreading of retail and other commercial activities to outlying spots, even to locations within the city limits. Improvements to the central business district which are included in the present plan, and which are feasible to accomplish because of the urban renewal program, can give Middletown a thoroughly modern shopping center of regional importance. The importance of the central business district of Middletown is stressed in the Raymond and May report.

TABLE 7
ANTICIPATED AREA REQUIREMENTS FOR RETAIL BUSINESS
Retail Category Present Total**
Floor Area
sq. ft.
Assumed Expansion to 2000 Additional CBD
sq. ft.
Floor Area
Outside CBD
sq. ft.
General Merchandise, Apparel, Furniture and Furnishings 394,280 100% 400,000  
Automotive, Lumber, Building Materials 1,114,410 50%   550,000
Food Stores 106,050 100% 25,000 85,000
Eating and Drink Places 72,120 100% 50,000 25,000
Other 148,310 100% 75,000 75,000
  1,835,170   550,00 735,000
Present stores in CBD, except automotive, lumber and building materials 458,245  
Present automotive, lumber and building materials expected to remain in CBD 75,000  
Total floor area anticipated in CBD, year 2000 1,083,145  
Present commercial establishments outside CBD and present commercial expected to move from CBD 1,387,555
Total floor area anticipated outside CBD, year 2000 2,122,555

The estimates given in Table 7 indicate that the central business district should have eventual space for about one million square feet of floor area, some of which may be on more than one story. it must also have ample space for movement, both vehicular and pedestrian, and for the parking of automobiles. This will require a total gross area of something like 100 acres.

For retail establishments outside the central area, there appears likely to be a total floor area by the year 2000 of two million square feet, most of which will probably be one one floor. The net land area required will be in the range of five or six times this amount or around 300 acres.

Of the categories of business listed in Table 7, that of General Merchandise, Apparel, Furniture and Furnishings belongs entirely in the central district. This district should also attract additional eating and drinking places, drug and proprietary stores and other stores of a specialty or variety nature. On the other hand, automotive business and lumber and building materials more properly belong in outlying areas such as Washington Street complex and South Main Street. The Raymond and May report gives a potential additional floor area to 1980 of 619,000 square feet for all commercial types in the whole City. This is equivalent to approximately 14 acres of floor space. Approximately a third of this may be expected to be in the central business district. The long-range plan must look further ahead than 1980 and must take into consideration the possible expansion to the target size of the City and Region, rather than the market potential of the next 15 years. Since the plan contemplates a doubling of population, both in the City and in the Midstate Region, it would appear necessary to provide at least for a doubling of the present business space in the categories which belong in the central business district. Automotive, lumber and building materials and similar types are more likely to be decentralized, in some cases, in neighboring towns. Therefore, we have anticipated only a 50 percent increase in needed floor area in these categories. There is, however, more flexibility in their expansion because of greater availability of outlying land.

Office Space and Transient Accommodations
When the State's expressway system is completed, Middletown will be in a most favorable location for business travel to all parts of Connecticut. We may expect a potential demand for sites here for many types of distributive businesses and sales representatives who wish to have a good site from which to cover Connecticut. The Raymond and May report places the potential demand for professional and nonprofessional office space to serve the locality at 162,000 square feet, with another 90,000 square feet for selected service activities.

The present Plan anticipates that most of this office space will be located in separate buildings around the fringes of the immediate central business area. With the progressive redevelopment of downtown Middletown under urban renewal, there should be adequate land for office space to accommodate the demand for both local services and regional businesses. Any accurate estimate of the acreage which may be occupied by the various types of office establishments in the year 2000 would be pure conjecture at this time. Since office buildings may be placed in close proximity to apartment buildings or to motel and similar transient establishments, there is a flexibility in the use of the land which the Plan allocates to such a combination of uses.

The Raymond and May report estimates the demand for transient motel-hotel facilities at about 100 rooms. There is a complete lack of such accommodations in downtown Middletown today and proposed activities at Wesleyan University appear likely to augment the need. The present Plan includes good sites for new facilities of this type, with space for expansion when the future demand exceeds today's estimates.

* Raymond and May Associates, Land Use and Marketability Study, Community Renewal Program, September, 1964.

** From Raymond and May Report

 

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