Jerry Lombardi- Interview

Dublin Core

Description

61:20 mins

Abstract

Jerry Lomardi describes downtown Danbury's redevelopment after the 1955 Still River flood along with Urban Renewal projects that he was apart of as Relocation Officer and Assistant Director (Danbury Redevelopment Agency) in the 1960's.

Date

1986

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Janick, Herbert F.

Interviewee

Lombardi, Jerry

Time Summary

Interview between Jerry Lombardi of Danbury Redevelopment Agency (1960's) and Dr. Herbert Janick from Western Connecticut State University

Side A:
0:00-10:00
Democratic Party had appointed Lombardi on joint board of finance in late 1950’s; appointment was approved by local, state, and Supreme courts; the City was Democratic; Town was Republican; Lombardi's background in the Danbury real estate led to support for appointment in of the Redevelopment position; First flood had occurred in 1955 and the next one in 1957; Establishment of the Flood Control committee had been on its way already before Lombardi was appointed; Ordinances and approval of board had to be set-up (which began in 1957); First flood in 1955 was catalyst for Redevelopment Agency to begin; Abraham A. Ribicoff was Governor of Connecticut at the time; strongly promoted liberal activities around the State; photographs taken of when Gov. Ribicoff came to Danbury and met with officials showcasing flooded areas from Still River; Actively supported the Redevelopment Agency and was willing to help with application approval;

Still River was a known problem; Especially after heavy rain; Operations for businesses would have to halted; World War Two also put a halt on controlling flooding issues; Stone roadways were old and significantly eroding; Lombardi mentions how water did not always flood into the streets though; Not until the large flood in 1955, but factories, homes, and buildings close to Still River knew that water would flow into their basements, So, when the 1955 flood occurred many knew that this was time to act, and better yet a chance to receive funds from Federal government; Started to work on redevelopment planning; People who helped launch redevelopment were Judge Lewis George (active Republican), Mr. Erickson (head of Barnson Corp.), George O’Brien (who later became chairman of the Redevelopment board); the Danbury Relocation and Redevelopment agency began in 1957; Yet, application approvals came from H.U.D. in 1959; Danbury pursued project full-fledge soon after in November 1959; Many towns started forming redevelopment agencies throughout the State; One could follow the Still River up the line and see all the towns like Naugatuck or Derby all the way down to Norwalk applying and had utilized funds from H.U.D.; Lombardi emphasises that Danbury was no different; the group of United States Army of Engineers (USACE) is not involved at this point; They did not get involved until many years later because could not meet the cost-benefit ratio of land set by Congress; Danbury's economy was not as well off as it in future years and did not meet with the value of the land in order for federal flood act to invest in redevelopment projects; Not enough urbanization yet;

10:01-20:00
USACE's engineers made various trips to Danbury and further created models; Models were a part of a “500 year Flood Plan”; The depths, channels, and curves of the Still River through specific flood zones of Danbury were all analyzed, measured, and determined by the USACE engineers; In fact, Danbury had followed these models for Phase One; City had to do it all themselves though; USACE did not get involved until the Second Phase of Redevelopment project;

Spring of 1958 Lombardi was asked to take position as Relocation Officer; Danbury had to relocate businesses and families within 200 parcels of land in flood area or within the First Phase area downtown; Relocation offices were next to the old Elk Lodge Building; American Legion building on Elm St. -that is now owned by Joe DeSilva largest building on Elm Street (Lombardi mentions this was the originally Amerigo Vespucci Lodge Sons of Italy, a national organization), and was lost during the Great Depression; Wanted to get back up and running; Needed money to help support their building; First renovations for City Planning and Redevelopment started with this building and created direct ties with H.U.D.; Building’s property lines laid at Still River, so took from that approach to other projects; Joseph Miro Serono Jr. was active Democrat one the first members of the City Planning Commission in order to start the Redevelopment Board had to take two steps and the City Planning commission was first to be setup; Danbury was still dual government; Redevelopment had a visible presence in each of the (Phase One?) building’s appraisals;
1962 onward Joseph Lombardi was the Danbury redevelopment board full-time director’s assistant and was the one who dealt with the Federal government consistently throughout the redevelopment process; Joseph E. Canale was part-time was heavily involved with Federal application processing and then became Director later on; Since Canale was part-time, much of the daily operations at the office was left to Lombardi; Canale mainly dealt with public affairs like meetings and public hearings, which Lombardi also attended;

20:01-30:00
1962 onward Joseph Lombardi was the Danbury redevelopment board full-time director’s assistant and was the one who dealt with the Federal government consistently throughout the redevelopment process; Joseph E. Canale was part-time was heavily involved with Federal application processing, and then became Director later on; Since Canale was part-time, much of the daily operations at the office was left to Lombardi; Canale mainly dealt with public affairs like meetings and public hearings, which Lombardi also attended; Joseph Hayes was on the Housing commission (was later appointed full-time Assistant Director of the Danbury Redevelopment board) even though he was a native of New Britain and not from Danbury; First Phase of Danbury Redevelopment 1957-1967/8; Official closing date for Phase One was in 1970; What areas were first involved: Grove St. two pre-existing River St., Rose St., and White St. up until railroad station; central focus on the intersection of Elm St. and White St. along with 4 bridges; Federal was supplying 2/3 of the money. The other 1/3 of it was split down the middle between Danbury itself and the State; danbury would City’s contribution (paid for by Danbury) were: Rose St. bridge, White St. bridge, Crosby St. bridge; in order to get approved by H.U.D. for cash bonds “field man” would come in from New York office of HUD to check-in on developments; occur monthly and would stay all day; He had to create long reports on the steps taken by the board; Cost/benefit ratio assessed by Federal; Only certain land parcel; Disposed value and what the extra piece of land had to be more than the cost; Audio cuts out here.

Side B:
30:40-40:00
Remnants of ethnic communities in Downtown area; mainly Lebanese and others were there for many many years due to work; Cold water flats were in poor condition where the building that were mostly cleared and those families were the ones to first be relocated; Blighted flats near the river on White Street area; Buildings under water at the rear of White St. where the bridge was; Did not lose much of the historic buildings during the project; Redevelopment board could have done much better given the rules mandated by H.U.D.; Not many options with development of Main and White St. with flooding either; had to operate under Federal rules, specifically H.U.D. rules, even though it was partially the Danbury's money; had to promote each property in the neighborhood in a similar manner under H.U.D.; City thought development was great for businesses and opportunity to restore Downtown; 1/6 of the project share of H.U.D. money was given to downtown; great deal on infrastructure for City; Applications had to go through the State first (the Department of Community Affairs); State then sent funds to Federal; Once Federal approves the project, then funds are dispersed; involvement and money was given all by Federal government; State had little to do with approval or dispersement really; was a new State department at the time; In fact the first project, the state was so new to Flood Recovery process;

Had to get money upfront through temporary loan notes and reimbursements; No notes upfront for cities at this point; Temporary loan notes would be guaranteed or “backed” by H.U.D.; relied on private investors interest and money; Danbury specifically created their own advertisements to get private investors attention; H.U.D. would just authorize the sale of the renovated buildings; H.U.D. grants would go towards payment after each completed job/property; Also, had to maintain same level of improvement on each project; Part of the money from the sale of the building or property would then be put back into paying off those loans;

40:01-50:00
Large responsibility for Jerry Lombardi and his colleagues; Had a lot of bookkeeping involved and financial responsibility when it came to applying for the H.U.D. guaranteed loans, dealing with the taxes on each one, and then managing the project’s grant status as well; Administration of funds were out of Lombardi's office; new issues every day that had to be dealt with; Little details mattered greatly; Along with maintaining H.U.D.’s supervision and approval;
Phase One: Danbury Square Mall; Kennedy Park, the Bus Transit Stop, other parcels and little buildings along White and Main Streets.;One family owned three buildings on White St. had difficult time leaving properties; one of which was the first liquor stores on White Street and downtown Danbury; This liquor store they owned moved a couple of times (North St. location being noted by Lombardi); Owners could maintain liquor permit with first permission to move and then got a special exemption; if a business or someone was hurt by relocation could then receive relief funds from flooding; Most of this was finished up by late 1960’s; latter part of the First Phase large amount of clearing up, paperwork, and activity; In those days on H.U.D. was again dispersing funds to cities in need; Application for G.N.R.P. (General Neighborhood Renewal Project) under H.U.D. would sponsor a large area for redevelopment; rather than just for flood control (which was really distinguished Phase One); Industrial area with lots of factories still needed to be done at this time and was affected by the flood; however H.U.D. could only support the two million worth of renovations; so this second application of H.U.D. would help finish these streets; USACE's engineers had done a small piece of the Still River flooded area which was down on Triangle St. that needed major damming past the railroad tracks; Not strictly flood control anymore in the late 1960’s; not just Lombardi and his colleagues anymore either; Once Phase One really began, several boards had been established and full City Planning Department was up; Redevelopment Committee saw the need to expand the College (Western Connecticut State University) campus as a way strategically fund the rest of downtown Danbury; College was thinking about expanding over to the other western portion of Danbury area already; but College was receiving opposition from residents in the area and those at the State level who thought too much money was going to be spent on clearing for the money they would receive back; efforts centered around Western Ct State University on White St. to stimulate the rest of the Downtown; Expansion was already in the works; Jerry and the rest of the committee sat with Ruth Hass several times; asked Hass to request funds from the State about expanding the campus to the other side of White Street; if H.U.D. agreed would allocate college credits in order to push further renewal; This construction would be all along the Still River and go from the Chestnut St. down to where the Danbury courthouse currently sits to possibly the end of Liberty; Chichester Place Mainly all along the river’s edge; she got approval from the State and told board to put in their plan;

50:01-61:20
Prepared and then submitted blueprints of campus and construction budget for dormitories, Administrative offices, as well as classrooms on that side of White Street, However, there was concern over the clearing of these buildings that were there; Had to follow H.U.D.’s rules; Would be considered as part of the General Neighborhood Renewal Plan (GNRP); First focus was on East and White St. as apart of college expansion efforts; Also to help traffic flow; Access road downtown without one that wounded in through Chestnut St. instead of just being the main one; which would improve a.) flood control b.) traffic c.) college campus expansion;
Reference to blueprints, a large map, and GNRP write-up for this (Interviewee Herb Janick asks from a Xerox copy of these from Jerry); GNRP ended in 1965; As the other H.U.D. project finished up, planning for the next started; Jerry’s office had to send these to city planning committee; All were on board; Lots of enthusiasm for the expansion of college campus, would open east side of Main St., but had issues with clearance of pre-existing buildings on this side of White St. from H.U.D; However, preservationists started to raise questions; No organized voices at the time; Willing to question and discuss; Project was passed/approved still; Clear, acquire, and then re-build was the initiative; Steps taken next included these streets: White St., Davis and Sherran Street (what was considered Midtown East of Danbury), Casper St. and one side of Liberty St. and was going to go down to Keeler and Center St. but ended up splitting the properties; Decision was made by the Federal; was seen as positive because it covered the flooded areas control and it looked like there was already enough
City had to inquire each of the properties, City had to buy land outright and then H.U.D. or other grants would be allocated later on to construction; USACE was involved all along the way, but did not fund; H.U.D. supported the activities;
Railroad was in bankruptcy; Board helped redevelop railroad too; H.U.D. also sponsored the reconstruction of the railroad had to temporarily relocate the tracks for awhile; Patriot Drive; Reasons why the streets and commercial buildings are the way it is today, because built into two sections; Money needed to be put in the pipelines and utilities first; Nixon administration wanted to end it
5 million dollars of appropriation that was originally approved to give to the City for the first ten years;
(Audio gets shaky then cuts out).

Citation

Janick, Herbert F. Lombardi, Jerry Jr., “Jerry Lombardi- Interview,” WCSU Archives - Digital Collection Viewer, accessed March 28, 2017, http://archives.library.wcsu.edu/omeka/items/show/4837.

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