June 4, 2018
FOCUS: Arts & Culture

Riverfront Recapture looks to innovate as it preps for busy summer

Michael Zaleski President and CEO, Riverfront Recapture

Q&A talks with Michael Zaleski, president and CEO of Riverfront Recapture.

Q. Riverfront Recapture earlier this year announced the launch of the Riverfront Innovation Fund. What is it and why was it created?

A. The Riverfront Innovation Fund is designed to provide seed money for new Riverfront Recapture programs and projects. It was established as part of our 2017-2020 strategic plan, earmarking up to $200,000 to be distributed between 2018 and 2020. No project will be awarded more than $50,000. We created this fund to generate revenue, and find new and creative ways to activate our parks.

All proposals submitted to the Riverfront Innovation Fund have to be feasible and have the potential to generate income. We have a particular interest in funding projects that leverage our existing resources, focus on young adults and professionals and are consistent with our strategic plan. Hopefully, in the next round of applications, we'll see more proposals that utilize our parks in the winter.

If you have an idea that connects people to the Connecticut River, save it for the next round of the Riverfront Innovation Fund applications, which will open later this year.

Q. The deadline for the first round of applications for the Riverfront Innovation Fund program was Feb. 22. How many proposals did you receive?

A. We received 15 proposals, which was very exciting, as we had no idea how many to expect. Many of the proposals were event-based, targeting specific audiences including families, pet owners, the LGBTQ community, fitness enthusiasts, foodies and sports fans. Some of the proposals suggested new infrastructure along the river, from pop-ups to permanent structures.

Of the 15 proposals, one requested no money, and the rest ranged from $5,000 to the maximum amount of $50,000. The committee brought five of the applicants in for presentations and Q&A.

The final decision is in process and will be announced soon.

Q. There was recently a proposal in the city council encouraging development along the Connecticut River. Specifically the resolution, pitched by councilman John Gale, called for Riverfront Recapture to "initiate planning to bring to the river's edge in Hartford dining options, a marina, and houseboat accommodations." What were your thoughts on the proposal and is further development along the River a possibility given the flood risks?

A. We're open to exploring all types of ideas for additional development along the river, but it's just so much more complicated than non-riverfront development. Building a structure for a restaurant or housing in the floodplain requires a mix of creativity and engineering that is difficult to achieve.

It's not just the challenges of the floodplain; it's the unpredictability of the Connecticut River. Think about this past January when ice floes covered our riverwalk. How would those affect the marina or the restaurants? Over the past 37 years, we've learned that careful consideration and collaboration are required for all riverfront projects, and are fully committed to further development along the Connecticut River.

Q. As we gear up for the summer season, what major events is Riverfront Recapture looking forward to? Will there be any changes to your events schedule or any noticeable changes to any of your traditional events?

We're looking forward to all of them, of course. June is going to be an incredibly busy month with the arrival of the Onrust, a replica of the ship built by Adrian Block in 1614 on June 21, and the Boathouse Bash with Olympic rower Meghan O'Leary on June 22.

The fireworks are always a favorite, and the noticeable change to that event is the date — they will be held on July 14, corresponding to the new dates for our Food Truck Festival and Connecticon. Also of note: Saturday, Sept. 29, marks the 20th year of The Head of the Riverfront, our annual USRowing regatta.

Our weekly programming is an excellent complement to our annual festivals, and they encourage daily park usage. The addition of new programs, such as Dance Current and Pop Up Shakespeare, and the return of popular programs introduced last summer, including Pop Up Improv and Yoga Flow on the River bring people into our parks every day and allow us to connect even more people to the Connecticut River.

Q. Given the state's and city's financial constraints, how is it going with raising funds for the various events that Riverfront Recapture puts on?

A. Fundraising is never easy, but we are fortunate to have strong support from the community, corporations like Travelers, our season sponsor, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and both the city of Hartford and the town of East Hartford.

We are also very grateful to Cathy Malloy and the Greater Hartford Arts Council working so diligently to find funding for the 'Summer in the City' program for the second year, allowing us to offset the significant expenses of events like the fireworks, dragon boats, and Taste of the Caribbean.

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