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An old gem could revitalize downtown Waterbury

WATERBURY, Conn (WTNH) - Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary was out of town today so he couldn't appear on camera with News8, but he couldn't contain his joy in this written statement:

"Today is a very exciting day for the City of Waterbury," Mayor Neil O'Leary wrote. "Since taking office I have made it clear that economic development and revitalization of Waterbury's downtown would serve as cornerstones of my administration."

The mayor is referring to a deal that would bring Post University's online programs into the old Howland Hughes Building on Bank Street. The building used to house the Howland-Hughes Department store, which, in its hey day about 50 years ago, was the retail hub of the Greater Waterbury area. Many people cherished the shopping experience there and remember it fondly to this day, like John Lewis, who's now 73. He smiles when he flashes back to going in there with mom and dad.

"Going in there, shopping. It was a family orientated business," John said. "It meant everything, everything....this building used to light up during the holidays."

Unfortunately, business dried up. The hey day is gone. The building has sat vacant for about 20 years and the city has been trying to figure out what to do with it. This deal gives the cherished building a new life for at least the next ten years. About 400 Post University staff members and workers will call it home.

And some call this a great move for the city's economy.

"Really excited I think it's great, a big boost in the arm for downtown," said Tony Nunes, owner of Tony's Men's Shop -- a clothing store right across the street. "It's something we've needed for many years."

"It could be huge. It's a game changer," said Dave Krechevsky, Public Policy & Economic Development Director with the Waterbury Regional Chamber. "You're talking about bringing 400 people downtown to an area that has lost businesses over the last few years and it would bring a vibrancy, some life back to downtown."

And it could be just the beginning. Post's CEO, John Hopkins, says he's received phone calls from other business leaders inquiring about the possibility of doing business downtown. As for Post University's investment, it's for at least ten years. Hopkins believes it's a win-win situation because enrollment at the main campus is growing and the university needed the space. 

Hopkins is almost giddy looking at the future for his school and the city it's called home for more than 100 years. He says the building may be old, but they will renovate the inside to be able to develop modernized, state of the art, online educational fare.

"In this new building we will have the opportunity to really invest in the most contemporary learning systems that are available today," Hopkins said.

And all of this adds another smile to John's face not thinking about the past, but now thinking about a brand new future.

"Rebirth," John said. "Yeah, that's a good word."


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