Is New London ready to gay it up?

Now that the tide is turning again in the president's office at Connecticut College, it may be time to formally resuscitate one aspect of the failed community development effort by former college President Claire Gaudiani, whose bridge building into New London was, in the end, widely condemned both in city neighborhoods and on campus.

Gaudiani's successors, no doubt with some direction from college trustees, still smarting from the losses from Gaudiani investments in city real estate, seemed to retreat to the campus on the hill and pull up the bridges.

The new Connecticut College president, Katherine Bergeron, dean of the college at Brown University and an accomplished native of Old Lyme, seems like an ideal candidate to begin rewarming relations between the school and its host community.

With the prospect of more college participation in the life of the city, from staff and faculty to students, it might be time also to revive the slogan for Gaudiani's campaign, to help create a "hip little city."

The new college president up on the hill is one of a number of developments that portend good things for the city, chief among them being the development of a new National Coast Guard Museum on the waterfront.

Next month, the city will host 20 big schooners for its first schooner festival, building on the success of last year's OpSail.

Next summer, the city will welcome the rebuilt whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, as it prepares to set out on its grand tour of New England waters and old whaling grounds.

Also next summer, the city may be host to its first gay pride festival.

A new gay community organization, spearheaded by a recent transplant to the city, has already gotten a lot of statewide press, with a story that ran in some places under the headline: "Provincetown on the Thames?"

Already the group has hosted a gay day at Ocean Beach Park, which park officials said brought a few extra hundred cars to the lot one recent weekend afternoon. A New England gay club for sailboat and motorboat cruising made a visit this summer with its flotilla, flying big rainbow flags from boat masts.

This weekend, there was a gay film festival downtown. And later this fall, Carson Kressley of the television show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" will host a community spelling bee.

It may be too soon to suggest for New London the kind of development fueled by gays that has helped rebuild tired old cities like Asbury Park, on the Jersey shore.

But city residents might hope that New London's beautiful architecture, an already-rich arts culture, with an indie music scene and community of artists, as well as good transportation access, a handsome downtown waterfront and big sandy beach, could help draw more gays here.

It would be nice if New London could snag just a little bit of the luster of the very expensive real estate market in the real Provincetown.

Constance Kristofik, who moved here from rural Pennsylvania to be with her partner, is the founder and president of OutCT, the new organization that is planning many of the new gay events.

Kristofik has also been named the new executive director of New London Landmarks, so she will also have a leading role in preserving the city's architectural heritage and strengthening its neighborhoods.

Kristofik said planning for next year's pride festival, which is already underway, started with a master's thesis on the idea she did while earning a degree from the University of New Haven.

She said dozens of interviews with representatives of all kinds of city organizations indicated a strong interest and both financial and volunteer help available for putting on a festival here.

She said her research indicates the first one might draw a couple of thousand visitors.

Kristofik is careful not to predict a big gay-fueled renaissance that would make New London a Provincetown on the Thames.

But she said development of gay culture would certainly help the city grow.

Tall ship festivals, a more lively mix of college students coming down the hill, a new national museum, a growing gay culture and the city's lively arts scene could all help make New London more the hip little city Claire Gaudiani envisioned.

Let's hope her successor decides to pick up that banner.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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