In the center of downtown Torrington lies a growing community of art and entertainment, designed to help the area prosper and grow financially. Behind that growing community is a man who has helped lay the foundation for continual cultural growth and economic opportunity.
It is for these reasons that the Register Citizen has named Ken Merz its Person of the Year for 2014.
Merz, secretary of O&G Industries, has a long history of working on different boards in the city that have worked diligently to grow the arts and entertainment industry of the downtown Torrington area.
Merz, who has been with O&G Industries since 1970, holds a bachelor of science in engineering, a master of science in professional accounting and a juris doctor degree.
Merz was nominated by colleague Brian McCormick, who said in his nomination, “Ken was instrumental as a board member, and later as the board chair, to help the Warner Theater become financially stable and to be one of the central features of a plan to make Torrington a center for arts, culture and tourism in Litchfield County.”
Merz served on the board for the Warner Theater for several years and acted as board president until he resigned in March 2013.
McCormick said that Merz brings a depth of knowledge about running a business, which is what the Warner Theater needed at the time.
“Even though its part of the arts, (the theater) needed to be run like a business and Ken set up a good business model,” McCormick said.
“I was never really a theater person,” explained Merz. “I was always more interested in the impact it has on the local community because there’s so many more people that get involved with the Warner.”
In 2012, Merz founded the Northwest Community Collaborative Inc. That organization went on to purchase the former Colonial Bank building on Main Street, across from Warner Theater. The building has since been turned into the KidsPlay Museum, a place that has drawn thousands of children and families to downtown Torrington. According to McCormick, secretary of the collaborative, the museum is moving forward with plans to expand under Merz’s leadership.
“Because of Ken, we are in the process of purchasing another building that will almost double the size of the space now,” said McCormick.
Matthew Tynan, executive director of KidsPlay, said that Merz is the driving force behind the children’s museum.
“Ken has been front and center in making this museum happen,” said Tynan. “He is driven, determined, and focused and completely dedicated.”
Tynan, who was appointed as the museum’s executive director in September, said that Merz’s diverse educational background has helped the museum in every aspect. Merz’s knowledge in engineering helped design a handful of exhibits at the museum and Tynan said that Merz drove to many other museums to see what looks good and what would work in KidsPlay to attract families.
“Unofficially, this is Ken’s museum. From behind the scenes to the exhibits on the floor, he’s most responsible for it,” Tynan said.
Since the museum’s opening two years ago, operations have run smoothly, something that Tynan attributes to Merz.
“We’re truly lucky to have someone like him,” he said.
Merz said he feels very strongly about the product that is put out at KidsPlay. From exhibits that infuse mechanics and physics to simpler toys for children to play with, much thought has gone into every aspect of what appears on the museum floor.
Merz said the museum has become a great venue for social interactions, and he is hopeful that the attraction will draw crowds to the downtown area and set Torrington as a go-to destination.
“We think that it brings people to town who might otherwise not come here,” said Merz.
According to Merz, in 2013 the museum had more than 10,000 visitors and in 2014, more than 20,000 people came to visit KidsPlay.
“We are starting to get some people from farther away,” said Merz about the museum’s visitors. “The positive thing about that is that is that it gets a lot of people out onto the sidewalks. Some might stop and buy a sandwich, some might stop at the toy store across the street or the bakery.”
“It provides a spot for people to spend time with their children and grandchildren. I think the whole thing works extremely well,” he said.
Story courtesy of The Register Citizen. You can read the original story on registercitizen.com.