By COLIN A. YOUNG Day Staff Writer
Waterford - The small tract of land just above where the Niantic River meets the Niantic Bay has been called "the lost jewel of the town" by local business owners, but it has been on the decline for more than 20 years. On Tuesday, First Selectman Daniel Steward announced a new interest in reinvigorating the oft-forgotten Mago Point waterfront area.
At a breakfast hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, Steward updated the business community on the state of Waterford and laid out the town's agenda for the year, including the desire to revitalize Mago Point.
"We will be meeting with members of the business association down there to ask, 'What do you really want to do and how can we help you do it without stepping on anyone's toes?'" Steward said. "The concept for Mago Point is there. We see (Mago Point) there, we know it's there, but we haven't had the opportunity to make it something that is vital yet."
The area, which sits in the shadow of the Route 156 Niantic River bridge, has "truly gone downhill" because it "has been very poorly dealt with over the years," Steward said. When the bridge opened more than two decades ago, the traffic that once flowed through Mago Point was diverted up and over the area. Soon thereafter, many of the point's motels, nightclubs, restaurants and other businesses closed up shop.
"Ever since 1991, when they put in the new highway bridge, everybody just drives by us," said Elizabeth Berner, who owns Captain John's Sport Fishing Center in Mago Point with her husband, Robert. "We've been working diligently with the town of Waterford to try to get us back on the map."
Today, Mago Point is home to about a dozen businesses, including restaurants, a bait shop, charter fishing outfits and a package store. As drivers cross the bridge, it is easy for them to see Mago Point, but not as easy to get there. In wintertime, the area is largely desolate. But each summer, it revives as boaters, diners and fishermen flock to the area.
"We're trying to develop that into a community, much like a Watch Hill would be, where you have nice stores, nice places to go, restaurants, a banquet hall," Steward said. "It's a rebirth and redevelopment down there."
Berner said the Mago Point Business Association - of which she is a member - has discussed the possibilities of adding a bicycle path through the point, finding more parking spaces for the businesses and constructing a boardwalk similar to the one just across the river in Niantic.
"We want to clean up the place, help landscape it a little better and drive some tourism down that way," Berner said. "We're kind of like the lost jewel of the town. We're really the best hidden jewel in Connecticut."
Though the revitalization plan is still in the planning stages, Steward said, the town has been in talks with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about leasing or purchasing the boat launch parking lot in the middle of the point. The town could also apply for grants for businesses to improve their facades and others for improving street landscaping in the area.
Steward's address at the Great Neck Country Club Tuesday morning served equally as a retrospective on the last year, an update on a number of ongoing projects in town and a preview.
"Waterford is doing well," Steward told the crowd of about 50 people.
The first selectman also cited Charter Oak Federal Credit Union's nearly completed $18 million headquarters at the corner of Route 85 and Industrial Drive, and the building project that will allow the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center to double its National Theater Institute program, as signs of the town's health.
"Given the state of our economy and the great volume that we hear of bad news in the country," he said, "we are still seeing some positive signs in our community."