Recipient: New London Main Street
Partners: Dominion Foundation, National Main Street Center
Opportunities & Challenges
In February 2017, the Garde Arts Center, a downtown anchor on upper State Street, made a budgetary decision to turn off its marquee. Suddenly, a constant beacon of light in downtown New London was gone. Without the glow it provided, upper State Street became much, much darker.
In order to make downtown New London brighter and feel more welcoming, New London Main Street (NLMS) created “Light Up New London!” in the spring of 2017. With the goal of making the historic waterfront district feel safer, friendlier, and more welcoming, “Light up New London!” works to create a positive perception of downtown New London by working with store owners and property owners to install LED lights inside storefront windows.
“Light Up New London!” rolled out in phases, concentrating on one block or contiguous area at a time. The project focused on upper State Street, where the Garde Arts Center is a located, and tackled the vacant and unlit storefronts in this area, with the goal of eventually working throughout the historic waterfront district.
NLMS began by assessing existing electrical conditions in storefronts, inventorying available electrical hardware, access to power, access to the storefront, and landlord or business owner availability. Once this assessment was complete, the organization worked with the property and store owner to install the equipment needed, including power strips, timers and clip-on style lights with LED bulbs. NLMS elected to implement a “quicker, cheaper, faster” mindset for the project, which enabled them to light more storefronts, therefore having greater visual impact.
Phase 1 of “Light Up New London!” was rolled out in early June to coincide with the opening of a Storefront Public Art project that was part of the New England Foundation for the Arts’ Creative Communities Exchange conference. This phase saw the installation of lighting in ten storefronts that enhanced the art displayed in them.
Phase 2 was officially kicked off on the darkest day of the year – the Winter Solstice – in late December. In all, lighting has been provided for 22 storefronts to date, with more coming online soon. To reward storefronts that already have lights, NLMS is installing “wish list” lighting that includes lights for signage, a speaker to play classical music, and a lightshow of images that will dance on the sidewalk.
Thames River Innovation Places, the CTNext funded organization that is working to foster innovation and entrepreneurial businesses in New London and Groton, has expressed interest in the project and NLMS is working with them to partner on projects in the future.
Outcome & Impact
The benefit of “Light Up New London!” is visible every evening. Once the sun sets, the streets are much brighter because storefronts are lit up at night. Because the lighting has been in place for just a few weeks in many cases, the impact is still being measured, but NLMS staff and volunteers have had business owners located in other parts of downtown New London asking when they’ll be able to participate in the program.
“Light Up New London!” is part of a larger blight elimination project. NLMS partners with City Center Taxing District, the City of New London and New London Landmarks to identify blight infractions, as well as determining the best way to strengthen the blight ordinance and exploring whether Village District zoning may benefit downtown.
Realizing that lights in storefront windows is only one piece of the solution to helping downtown New London thrive, NLMS plans to continue the lighting project and to work with arts groups and student groups to create window displays to fill vacant storefront. Additionally, NLMS hopes to work with owners of long-vacant property to help them overcome the challenges that they have in redeveloping their buildings so that they can be made move-in ready for potential new businesses.