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  November 20, 2000

Urban Legal Initiative Provides Legal Services,
Community Development in Urban Areas

With William Breetz, it's safe to assume that the glass is always at least half full, if not overflowing.

The president and executive director of the Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative and an adjunct professor of law, Breetz looks around Hartford and sees opportunity where many others see only The Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative, which is affiliated with and housed at the law school, provides legal services to nonprofit groups engaged in reducing urban blight. It also educates law students by involving them in community development work. Most of the three-year-old organization's work has been done in Hartford, where Breetz lives, and in Waterbury.

Breetz considers efforts to help the Colonial Theatre Renaissance Corp. acquire the Colonial Theatre and neighboring properties in Hartford to be one of the initiative's signature projects. CULI is representing the

corporation, and helps in planning and implementing its $5 million Urban Act grant.

Recently, CULI also joined forces with federal and local agencies to form an agency devoted to implementing economic development in the greater Hartford area. The Regional Economic Development Council is the brainchild of U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, who encouraged several federal agencies to assist in the effort.

The council, which held its first meeting in August, is made up of leaders of major organizations in the region, labor leaders, executives from local companies and area lawmakers. CULI will provide the staff and support for the task force.

"The goal is to support and strengthen the region's economic development through the efforts of a broad, high-level group of local leaders with access to federal resources," Breetz says. "The task force is likely to focus on a few strategic projects in the region that will have broad impact throughout the area."

Last month, CULI received a $100,000 grant from the federal Economic Development Administration. CULI has provided $35,000 in in-kind matching funds. The existing funds and any additional money raised will be used to hire more staff and outside consultants.

Breetz says the Hartford initiative is based on a model used by the federal Department of Defense in towns where military base closings have resulted in high unemployment rates and related problems. Breetz is particularly interested in finding consultants who can suggest how to adapt the Department of Defense's experiences to Hartford. He also wants to find ways to work in cooperation with other relevant graduate schools and programs at the University.

"The University of Connecticut is a unique resource in our state that our tax dollars have supported," says Breetz. "If we can successfully build an interdisciplinary alliance of relevant expertise at the University, for example the law, engineering and education schools as they relate to building new forms of technology training to benefit the state's employers and employees, we will have once again repaid the state's taxpayers for their support of this singular institution."

Another goal is to make the oft-discussed science and technology park in East Hartford a reality.

"The idea is to find major opportunities to create new, well paying jobs," Breetz says.

As a result of high-profile layoffs at Pratt & Whitney, the withdrawal of financial services corporations and the demise of Colt's Manufacturing Co., the area's economic engines are changing, Breetz says. The council wants to focus on workplace efforts and employment opportunities in the region.

"We're losing a base of local, committed businesspeople," Breetz says. "How do you build on that?"

In addition to helping area residents, Breetz sees CULI's involvement with the council as an opportunity for the organization to acquire a development focus.

"We can use it on a region-wide basis," he says, "and learn to use it on a local level."

Allison Thompson