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City of Groton, New London seeking ways to revitalize neighborhoods

May 6, 2019 GMT

New London and the City of Groton are tackling development efforts in areas separated by the Thames River but connected by the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

A joint effort involving projects at Hodges Square in New London and along Thames and Bridge Streets in Groton is dubbed the Thames River Reconnection, and in part is being funded by a grant through Thames River Innovation Place, via CTNext, a public-private network funding four designated Innovation Places that includes the Thames River region.

The idea behind the grant is to create places where talent wants to be, and consultants are trying to build complementary assets with the centerpiece being the Thames River, said Kevin Hively, owner of Ninigret Partners and lead consultant on the project. The goal is to create walkable neighborhoods that are destinations, said Groton City Planner Dennis Goderre.

The region, though it has economic challenges that would need to be worked through, also presents an opportunity for redevelopment, with its relatively inexpensive real estate and coastal location, along with the leadership exhibited by the communities and desire among people to be in more urban, amenity-rich areas, Hively said.

“I think this is one of the best long-term investment opportunities, because it’s one of the few remaining urban locations, basically from New York to Portland, that hasn’t been redeveloped in a major, major way,” said Hively.

Upcoming workshops are planned in both Groton and New London to gather public input on ways to improve the targeted New London and Groton neighborhoods.

Thames and Bridges streets in Groton

Goderre said the project is about place-making and how to turn Thames Street, the historic downtown of the City of Groton, and Bridge Street into a destination, by looking at ways to revitalize the area, from zoning to transportation. The neighborhood is slated to be part of a Tax Increment Financing district, which will go to public hearing in September.

Consultants have been gathering data and will share their preliminary ideas such as options for waterfront access and rezoning, during an interactive workshop Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Groton City Municipal Building.

Hively said people can stop by at any point during the open hours and view educational boards on the key issues and topics, while consultants will be on hand to answer questions. A series of exercises will be held to get people’s input on different “decision points.”

One idea is create a waterfront amenity, such as piers or a boardwalk, or a combination of the two, to better leverage the city’s waterfront and draw people to Thames Street, Hively said.

As part of an initial effort to promote waterfront access, the city has received a 1.3 million in federal funds through the federal Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternative Program, or TAP. A portion of the money would improve the deteriorating sidewalks on Williams Street from the Waterford town line to Briggs Street. Connecticut College and the city jointly shared the 20 percent match to secure 560,000 in TAP funding for continuation of that project to Huntington Street — focusing on pedestrian and bicyclist safety. There are also roadside plantings, additional roadside parking and improved lighting planned, said New London City Planner Sybil Tetteh.

Design of that work is being reviewed by the state Department of Transportation with construction expected to start later this year.

New London and Groton jointly were awarded 192,000 in TRIP funding in this year’s third round, money aimed at implementation of previous efforts and to shape public land into venues for public events and artwork.

Tetteh said the idea is to transform underutilized public places for the purposes of hosting events while creating a sense of place with artwork and murals.

The idea is “to improve the public realm in Hodges Square, one of the gateways into New London,” Tetteh said.

Tetteh said the May 8 gathering from 6 to 8 p.m. at Winthrop STEM Elementary School should be a community led workshop to further solicit ideas on how to improve the neighborhood.

Much of the work in Hodges Square harks back to a larger plan for improvements to the area outlined in a 2013 Creative Placemaking Master Plan, a grant-funded study sponsored by the nonprofit New London Landmarks. The plan addresses the challenges of reconnecting the Hodges Square business district, Riverside Park and Crystal Avenue neighborhoods with the city, among other things.

The city, with input from the Riverside Park Conservancy, has tackled improvements at Riverside Park, clearing trees to create better views and establishing walking paths and parking areas among other projects. The city recently announced it was further restricting traffic into the park for the benefit of pedestrian safety.

k.drelich@theday.com

g.smith@theday.com

 

if you go

What: Interactive workshop for redevelopment of Thames and Bridge streets

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 9 (drop in anytime)

Where: Municipal Building Auditorium, 295 Meridian St., Groton

 

What: Drop In Workshop

When: 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: Winthrop STEM Elementary School, room 131, 74 Grove St., New London