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Norwich - The framed certificates handed out to city officials Tuesday outside City Hall were decades in the making.
Emily Hultquist, president of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association, cited plans and development efforts dating back to the 1970s that contributed to the 2013 APA designation of downtown Norwich as one of the "10 Great Neighborhoods" in the country. Hultquist presented two plaques - one for City Hall and one for the city planning office - during a brief ceremony in City Hall plaza Tuesday.
She called downtown Norwich "a unique location," at the scenic confluence of three rivers, with intact historic urban architecture, continued investment in restoration and new construction by both public and private entities and the elements that make downtown a "living neighborhood." She cited the June River Fest, summer farmers markets and the popular Taste of Italy event at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park.
Hultquist also listed some efforts long past that contribute to the vibrancy of the district today. In the 1970s, historic preservation advocates launched an exhaustive survey of historic buildings downtown. In 1985, the downtown was named a National Historic District. In 1982, the city launched a historic façade restoration project, and in 1987 developer Ronald Aliano proposed an ambitious plan to redevelop the former industrial waterfront into the Marina at American Wharf. Brown Park accompanied the project.
In recent years, Otis Library embarked on a $10 million renovation, the city built the $22 million transportation center and the city and Mashantucket Pequot Tribe combined to build the Mercantile Exchange office complex.
Hultquist called the views from the fifth floor "breathtaking."
APA's designations of Great Neighborhoods, Great Streets and Great Public Spaces feature unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners, the association said in a press release describing the programs.
The 2013 Great Places have many things Americans say are important to their "ideal community," including locally owned businesses, transit, neighborhood parks and sidewalks. They illustrate how the foresight of planning fosters communities of lasting value, the association said.
Mayor Peter Nystrom and Director of Planning and Development Peter Davis accepted the certificates Tuesday.
Nystrom thanked many of the approximately 30 people in the audience - including Otis Library Director Robert Farwell, several city employees, elected officials, Norwich Community Development Corp. officials and downtown residents - for their contributions to the designation.
"We're in there with Chinatown in San Francisco," Nystrom said, referring to one of the other 10 neighborhoods receiving the designation this month.
Downtown Norwich, Conn.; Chinatown, San Francisco, Calif.; Downtown Decatur, Ga.; Central Street Neighborhood, Evanston, Ill.; Downtown Mason City, Iowa; Historic Licking Riverside Neighborhood, Covington, Ky.; Kenwood, Minneapolis, Minn.; Beaufort Historic District, Beaufort, S.C.; West Freemason, Norfolk, Va.; and Williamson-Marquette Neighborhood, Madison, Wis.