Managing a vibrant downtown is complex work, requiring consistent effort and tireless commitment. This award honors CMSC members – the people, communities and organizations – whose exceptional efforts are contributing to thriving downtowns across the state.
Main Street is the spine for the Downtown Norwich Historic District which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Amazing 19th Century architecture includes a magnificent City Hall prominently overlooking the business district and the historic Carroll Building which greets visitors at the confluence of the Shetucket, Yantic and Thames Rivers in the picturesque Chelsea Harbor. These assets lay the foundation for Norwich’s Main Street revival, where eight summer cultural festivals were hosted in 2022, and restaurants and breweries created a walkable “party under the lights” for St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas. Their parklets and murals have enhanced this welcoming and vibrant downtown where people enjoy coming together. The next 12 months will see a $20 million investment produce a 20-room boutique hotel, brewery, coffee house, and 60 market rate apartments all with Main Street addresses along a 300-yard stretch where downtown residents can live, work, and play.
NCDC has utilized the Four Point Approach to improve the downtown in the following ways:
- Economic Vitality: The pandemic created a difficult situation for the food & beverage industry but also set the conditions for revival. Outdoor dining became a solution to the pandemic problem, but has evolved into an opportunity. Norwich’s investment in parklets has created permanence to what was a temporary condition, and allowed not only increased business for downtown restaurants and breweries, but also created a vitality that draws in more business.
- Design: Outward facing symbols that create a welcoming and vibrant community are at the center of their parklet and mural improvements. Prior to acquiring and placing the parklets, outdoor dining space was haphazard and ad hoc. The quality of design of the Archatrack parklets, enhanced by floral displays and lighting, results in a Main Street “feel” that is attractive and stands alone as a service option and not just a “solution to a problem”. The murals throughout the downtown attract interest and visitation as well as reducing the toxic stress that can come from a lack of vibrant outdoor space.
- Promotion: Acquiring assets is only step one. NCDC’s efforts to bring people together through festivals coordinated by Global City Norwich (an arm of NCDC) and their partners in the Norwich Events Organization have added people to the assets! Promoting struts, strolls, and parades through the downtown space, particularly at night under the lights, has brought people’s attention directly to the efforts to create outdoor communal space in the parklets and the evolving work at Jubilee Park. Additionally, NCDC’s ongoing work to reach out to the community through the EnvisionNorwich360.com online engagement tool has given them extra reach.
- Organization: Community partnerships with business owners have made this parklet effort successful. Business retention requires sustained face-to-face with downtown business owners and these efforts have created a spark for those conversations. The Jubilee Park effort is a case study in public-private cooperation to take a privately owned asset and create public space. Though still underway, NCDC’s ability to organize and synchronize the efforts of the municipality, their economic development organization and a private building owner with a study by the Yale Urban Design Workshop is an example of how Main Street efforts require “many hands” as opposed to one organization.
How has CMSC influenced your efforts?
Says NCDC, “Our initial visit with CMSC leaders inspired us to make a concerted effort to do the daily work of reviving what has been a tired downtown. The workshops and newsletters distributed by CMCS sustain our motivation and refresh us when we get caught up in the daily grind of the hard work that is Main Street revival.”