Attendees of a New London development workshop Wednesday heard updates on plans for Fort Trumbull, downtown, and other areas of the city, with speakers encouraging a cooperative effort among different partners and strategies to put development plans into place.
The event, entitled “Visions & Plans: New London 2013 and Beyond,” was hosted at Fort Trumbull State Park by New London Landmarks. Sandra Chalk, the organization’s executive director, said the city has developed several plans for everything from reconnecting Hodges Square with the downtown area to improving the Bank Street and State Street intersection [see attachments]. She said city agencies have embarked on successful revitalization projects in the past, including restoration of the New London Landmarks building and Union Station.
“There are so many opportunities in this city that we all need to work together to make this city grow in the 21st century,” said Chalk.
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Gov. Dannel Malloy paid a visit to the event, saying there have been increased efforts in recent years to revitalize cities as cultural and educational centers. He said the New London area can benefit from its location on the waterfront, architecture, and historical significance.
“All of that has been unexploited in my humble opinion in the greater area,” said Malloy.
Malloy said he has made decisions at the gubernatorial level with the idea of how it will affect Connecticut’s urban areas in mind. He said the state can improve these areas, capitalize on its strengths, and promote tourism to increase growth. He said the state must also address several areas, saying the state government relies too heavily on property taxes and that this is particularly onerous to cities.
Frank McLaughlin, a project manager at Renaissance City Development Association, said River Bank Construction of Westport, plans to break ground on its “Village on the Thames” development at Fort Trumbull in May. The plan calls for 103 residential units to go up on parcels that formerly held the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory. McLaughlin said the plans for the buildings, which will be in the Italianate and Greek Revival styles, will soon be posted online.
“You can see how every building has its unique features,” he said.
McLaughlin said other plans for the area include office development along Howard Street, a hotel, and dry stack boat storage proposed by an existing marina. Other possible development could include an indoor water park or seven-story parking garage surrounded by mixed-use residential and commercial development.
The Municipal Development Plan reserves another parcel at the peninsula for a museum. McLaughlin said the national Coast Guard museum could be built here, but also said that another museum could go in if the Coast Guard museum is built elsewhere in New London.
“We are at the tipping point,” said McLaughlin. “When people see that we are actually developing at Fort Trumbull, other people will be interested in what we’re doing.”
Robert Stillman, a principal with River Bank Construction, said the interior of the buildings will have a mix of traditional and modern styles. He said he had encountered differences of opinion on the development but also a common wish to see revitalization at Fort Trumbull.
“One thing that’s very noticeable about this city is everyone wants to see it succeed,” he said.
Kimberly Parsons-Whitaker, associate director of the Connecticut Main Street Center, said one concern of the organization is a statewide lack of improvement to downtown spaces. She said efforts in this area should include community engagement, creative problem solving, and good leadership and management.
“Without a healthy downtown, your entire community is not going to be healthy,” she said.
Parsons-Whitaker said New London has been successful in the past in investing in public spaces. She said the challenge facing the city is one of focusing efforts to increase success, developing implementation strategies, and encouraging the rehabilitation of downtown spaces.
Katie Scanlon, a construction manager and designer with Barun Basu Associates, said the latter idea was studied recently for three Bank Street buildings. She said the study found such problems as a cramped and confusing egress route, neighboring buildings being unable to use some of their space due to fire concerns related to the abutting properties, and differing floor levels.
“It’s unfortunate because I think this is prime real estate,” said Scanlon. “It’s being used in an inefficient way and I think it’s time for a change.”
The proposal developed by the study would develop a pedestrian corridor to open up retail spaces on the ground floor and possibly allow further development for the block as a whole by opening up a central courtyard. Ceilings would be raised to equalize the floors and connect the three buildings on upper residential levels, with further construction of penthouse apartments.
Todd O’Donnell, a commissioner with the City Center District and partner in Union Station, said a “critical mass” among downtown partners would be needed to see such a project to fruition. He said New London must also accept that major changes may be necessary in some plans.
“We have to be willing to recognize that demolition is a fundamental part of refurbishment in downtown New London,” said O’Donnell. “In many of these buildings, something has to come down in the façade or back in order for them to be livable.”