City Councilwoman Mary McBride-Lee remembers when Martin Luther King Drive on the East Side was a war zone of gunfire, drug gangs, crime and grime and despair for public housing residents of the 1,000-unit Father Panik Village, the sanctuary of Waltersville School where she has taught for 35 years beckoning the children of the tenement-style projects. Chief Administrative Officer Kim Staley who lived there as a child recalled its notorious reputation named after the dedicated Catholic priest who lobbied for public housing, but became a symbol of failure long after his death. Tuesday afternoon they both marveled at what is now there, 93 mixed-income townhouses, with 84 more to come, a courtyard of plush green grass welcoming city and state officials at the opening of Crescent Crossings, a $60 million collaboration of the JHM Group and the Richman Group, with assistance from the federal Housing and Urban Development and local housing authority.
Governor Dan Malloy and Mayor Joe Ganim joined about 100 local, state and federal officials and guests for what Malloy termed “a day of celebration” and one of his signature accomplishments, the building of more than 20,000 affordable housing units in the state in his more than six years as governor.
“For a long time,” said the governor, “Connecticut turned its back on quality housing … Quality housing is part of raising people up.”
Ganim, addressing the crowd, said he was “bowled over by its beauty.”
To know what was there decades ago juxtaposed to the modern townhouse-style construction provides a dramatic image.
Father Panik Village was constructed in 1939 as the first public housing project in the state, opening under the name Yellow Mill Village. It was renamed in honor of Panik in 1955. Federal landlord neglect and crime increases turned the housing project into a war zone of gun violence. The demolition of Father Panik Village began in the mid 1980s under Mayor Tom Bucci after decades of mayors howling to federal housing officials about the inhumane conditions, crime and impact on public safety. By 1994, in the second term of Joe Ganim’s first tenure as mayor, the last of the 1,000 units came down. Along the way resident relocation efforts challenged the city. Many residents scoffed at the notion of public housing dwellers relocating to their neighborhoods, that often times took on racial tones.
Over the years some housing units went up in the vicinity, but in Crescent Crossings a townhouse village has emerged on the core of the former Panik site, revitalizing a troubled strip.
Building Crescent Crossings, bounded in part by Crescent Avenue and Church Street–a block from the Saints Cyril and Methodius Church–and Martin Luther King Drive, required a complicated financing package that included People’s United Bank and Citibank providing the construction financing. HUD, owner of the property, provided $5 million for flood mitigation.
The project was conceived during the mayoral administration of Bill Finch but a tax deal for a second phase of the project was scuttled by the City Council. On the 2015 campaign trail, Ganim criticized the Finch administration tax arrangement involving the development. Ganim last year announced a financial arrangement with the developer that he asserts is a better deal for the city.
JHM is also involved in replacement units for the troubled Marina Village in the South End where some residents will occupy the new Crescent Crossings. City Councilwoman Denese Taylor-Moye. who represents the South End, declared “I can’t wait until you get to work on Marina.”