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The Hartford Courant

His Challenge: Keep Ball Rolling; Caban Succeeds Perez As SINA Director


March 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Hartford Courant. All Rights Reserved.

Talk about a tough act to follow.

As executive director of Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, Luis C. Caban replaced Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who along with former Trinity College president Evan S. Dobelle, received much acclaim for the $110 million Learning Corridor complex of schools built near the Trinity campus.

Following Perez is both a challenge and a "great opportunity," said Caban, who despite feeling "some pressure" believes he has the experience to do the job.

"I went out and bought a lot of socks to fill those shoes. They're big shoes," said Caban, 54. "I feel pressure in terms of making certain that you don't let the ball drop."

Caban, who had been working as the acting director since Perez announced his candidacy in June, was recently named the permanent director of SINA.

By not dropping the ball, Caban means continuing to build on SINA's goal to revitalize the Frog Hollow and Behind the Rocks neighborhoods through increasing homeownership, improving public safety and job training, attracting new businesses and strengthening established ones.

In his SINA office in the Butler Building on the grounds of the Institute of Living, Caban said rising property values, a decline in crime, expansion of businesses along and near Park Street and an increase in homeownership opportunities has made Frog Hollow more attractive in recent years.

A consultant for SINA since 1995, Caban has overseen its Cityscape program, a $20 million housing revitalization project that includes the building of 23 two-family homes in the past three years.

SINA expects to soon begin construction on another 11 two-family homes and will eventually construct a total of 65 homes. SINA, which owns about 60 properties in the city, is planning a $12 million project that will provide 77 rental units on 13 properties in the Behind the Rocks and Frog Hollow neighborhoods, he said.

Perez said Caban is the right man for the job.

"He has instant creditability," said Perez. "Once he sets a direction, he stays with it. That's important to the city."

Caban and city officials, said community activist Edie Lacey, have helped residents rid their neighborhood of several abandoned or troubled buildings. "I don't think you can have better communications with a person," she said. "He's a man who came from the community and understands it."

A native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Caban was raised in New York's South Bronx, which he compared with the city's Frog Hollow neighborhood: both have problems such as absentee landlords, abandoned buildings, crime, high levels of unemployment and people with poor health and little education.

Unlike the South Bronx, Hartford has the support of several generous individuals and major institutions that have been willing to offer help, he said.

SINA recently took over the Hartford Areas Rally Together Jobs Center, and will direct the organization to place more effort on job training, Caban said.

SINA is also working with the Spanish American Merchants Association on a $6 million streetscape project designed to improve Park Street and attract business to the area.

"I think the neighborhood is on an upswing," said Caban, who along with his wife, Maria, and their two children, live in a three- family home on Brownell Avenue across the street from the SINA office. "I think we reached bottom and now we're on our way back."

SINA Chairman J. Kevin Kinsella said Caban was the best of the seven candidates the board interviewed. In addition to having received two awards from national Hispanic organizations, he has over 20 years of community development experience in the Bronx and New Jersey, said Kinsella, a vice president at Hartford Hospital.

Since working with SINA, Caban has shown excellent leadership, computer and writing skills, which helped the organization receive several state and housing grants, Kinsella said.

The widely praised Learning Corridor has struggled recently after officials announced a $1.3 million budget gap in January. That deficit has since been reduced to about $650,000.

"There have been some financial problems," Caban said. "But what it brings to the neighborhood is a top-notch facility. That's an incredible resource for the community."

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