NL Main Street's efforts earn accreditation

New London - New London Main Street, which promotes events and activities in downtown, has won national accreditation for the third year in a row from the Connecticut Main Street Center in Hartford.

Best known for its semiannual Downtown Food Stroll, New London Main Street completes between 30 and 35 projects a year. One of its most noticeable projects was to change state-sponsored Interstate 95 road signs for local attractions from green to brown, a long process that had to be coordinated with the state Department of Transportation.

But the biggest project tackled last year, according to executive director Penny Parsekian, was the New London skating rink erected over the winter at The Parade near the corner of State and Bank streets. The rink attracted 11,000 visitors and about the same number of spectators, she added.

"Installing the skating rink was a huge effort," Parsekian said. "It was a big win for the downtown."

The organization had to hire a professional rink management company, rink managers, skating instructors and part-time staff.

Parsekian said New London Main Street intends to produce an economic-impact study, to be conducted by one of the organization's committees, that will try to measure the skating rink's effects on downtown businesses. So far, businesses have returned more than 30 surveys, and she hopes for another dozen or so more.

"People noticed an increase in foot traffic," said Parsekian, speaking by phone from a national Main Street conference in Baltimore. "And it's helped improve the image of downtown."

Parsekian said two other Main Street projects - an expanded downtown map and guide that included listings for all key attractions and an improved website - were key to the organization's success.

She added that a QR code printed on the map and guide that allowed people with smart phones direct access to downtown information was particularly innovative. And the organization's website, she said, continues to see increased traffic month over month of about 10 percent. She said unique visitors are now about 10,000 a month in the high season and 7,000 off season.

"It's a cyber-village," she said. "And it's not just a New London Main Street site; it's all about The District (the organization's name for downtown): the culture, art, entertainment and nightlife."

New London Main Street, incorporated in 1998, is one of six designated Main Street organizations in Connecticut. The other Main Street groups winning national accreditation from the National Trust Main Street Center were in Simsbury, Hartford and Waterbury.

Norwich's organization, Rose City Renaissance, did not win national accreditation this year, though it has in the past.

Parsekian said the accreditation process is labor-intensive, involving program assessments, professional organization, planning and delivering on project plans.

l.howard@theday.com

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