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Party under the palm trees in New London

We all knew that this summer, with the coronavirus pandemic waning, was going to be a wild one — an explosion of pent-up energy as everyone steps out of isolation and starts spending all the money we saved staying at home for a year.

Indeed, Mystic, with the summer solstice just behind us, is already jamming.

I predict that this fall is going to bring a new round of reckoning among the locals in Groton and Stonington about how to resolve festering issues of Mystic parking, traffic and crowd control.

The old infrastructure is not holding. Groton keeps allowing more restaurants to open without overall parking solutions.

A relief valve for Mystic crowd explosion, though, just might be the robust and still manageable dining and entertainment alternative 10 miles down the eastern Connecticut shoreline.

New London, the shoreline region's urban capitol, I'm pleased to say, has weathered the pandemic surprisingly well, with many popular downtown restaurants surviving, some with broad new outdoor decks overlooking the waterfront.

New London has also unveiled a first phase of its evolving Waterfront Park strategy: a restaurant and bar, with plans for daily live music, on one of the big concrete piers over the water, now lined with rubber fenders and ladders, a boat magnet.

City Dock, some three years in the making, is pretty swell, a collection of shipping containers, made into kitchens and bars, surrounded by a big spread of tables and high tops arranged under a tent. Big grown palm trees, anchored in pots, are on each corner and now sway in the harbor breezes.

I had lunch there this week, and it was busy even for a cloudy Monday. You could tell just from the gushing compliments diners were giving the staff, that the place is going to be a huge hit.

Best of all, it's like a summer mirage. Come fall, they'll take it all down and restore the pier to its bare self for the winter.

City Dock has weathered some controversy, including grumbling by the other downtown businesses about competing with an interloper that doesn't make the same commitment to the city as a year-round building owner or tenant.

I think, however, that the excitement about City Dock will create lots of spillover for other downtown businesses, a rising tide to lift them all.

You can already see more pleasure boat traffic in that corner of the harbor. And the rental moorings that Mayor Michael Passero championed years ago, empty summer after summer, are poised to finally get a busy season of use.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection at first tried to stop City Dock, saying it's not a water-dependent use of the park.

I know. I know. DEEP is against waterfront restaurants while it is anxious to allow the filling in of acres of New London Harbor to accommodate assembly of wind turbines. But's that's so rich utilities can charge us more money for electricity, generated by offshore farms. Who cares if it harms the fish ecosystem?

I give Mayor Passero credit for shaming DEEP into finally allowing the restaurant. The final verdict was that accommodating boats to tie up indeed turned City Dock into a water-dependent use.

The restaurant advertises that it has line handlers standing by to help boating patrons tie up.

For those coming by land, parking downtown is available, although it will require a bit of a stroll. I think people will make the effort, in big numbers.

This big new spread out over the water, with palm trees, music and lots of food and liquor, as well as wide views of historic landmarks and lots of small boats, ships, ferries and trains on the move, is unlike anything you'll find in Mystic.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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