Hodges Square area of New London the focus of new initiative

New London - The northeast district of the city, which includes Hodges Square, Riverside Park and the surrounding neighborhood, is home to about 3,000 residents and another 3,000 students, cadets and faculty at Connecticut College and the Coast Guard Academy.

The area is a gateway to New London, too. Travelers from Route 32 and Interstate 95 - more than 10,000 cars per day - are funneled down Williams Street and through Hodges Square.

But many people feel that the roughly 1.5-square-mile area has been cut off from the rest of the city. So on Monday night, representatives from New London Landmarks and the newly formed Hodges Square Village Association presented to the City Council a master plan proposal they said will revitalize the community and better connect it to other parts of the city.

Since 2012, New London Landmarks has been talking to neighbors, holding forums and sponsoring more than a dozen hands-on workshops to put a spotlight on Hodges Square, Riverside Park and the surrounding neighborhood, funded by a $100,000 Creative Placemaking grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

"We are identifying key existing assets which could become building blocks for revitalization in the area," said Art Costa of Thames Valley Sustainable Community Connections, who acts as an adviser to the Hodges Square Village Association. "We have a lot of assets. What can we do to make good use of those and better utilize them?"

Those assets include the Thames River estuary, Riverside Park, the old town mill, a handful of restaurants, three gas stations and other businesses.

Brian Kent, of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture, told the council he would like to bring back a water fountain that once stood in Hodges Square. The fountain, which he said has been in storage at Lyman Allyn Museum for more than 60 years, could be placed at the corner of Williams Street and State Pier Road to create "Fountain Plaza."

The group hopes to cultivate the feeling of an urban village in the greater Hodges Square area by widening sidewalks, planting trees along the roadway, adding benches and bicycle racks, and installing colorful lighting or murals along I-95 underpasses in the area.

The group also wants a liaison from the city to help it look into possible changes to zoning.

"As we begin to look closely at flexible zoning approaches, we might have a little petri dish here of what could be done perhaps elsewhere in New London," Costa said.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio reiterated his support for the plan, as did several city councilors.

"Siting here and watching this presentation was really a breath of fresh air," said Councilor Efrain Dominguez, who lives near Hodges Square. "I can see that this is going to be incredible."

c.young@theday.com

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