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Bravo for New London's community center plans

It's been a long time since I've had much positive to say about New London's plans to remake the Fort Trumbull neighborhood it stole by eminent domain.

Indeed, it's hard to think of a single positive thing that's happened on that front since the Supreme Court endorsed, some 15 years ago, the taking of private property there. Until now, that is.

What a great way to turn the corner on this unfortunate chapter in the city's history than with the kind of community-building plans the City Council endorsed this week.

The council unanimously signed on to a plan put forth by Mayor Michael Passero to build a $30 million community center in the heart of the decimated neighborhood, a trifecta of good news for the city.

It would end a long and unhealthy stretch of time the city has gone without the kind of recreation center that so many surrounding suburban communities take for granted. It will create an attractive anchor for the heart of the waterfront Fort Trumbull peninsula, to attract other development.

Best of all, it's affirming to see the city take on a major transformative project that not only improves the quality of life in the community but also feeds the economic development potential of that part of the city, with its powerful employment base and new housing projects in the works.

It's probably too early to break out the confetti and noisemakers. There are a lot of ways this can go off the rails.

But I salute the mayor, who has long made a community center a centerpiece of his goals for the city, for devising a professional plan that takes advantage of a ready-to-build site with reasonable projections for how to pay for it all.

Of course this being New London, there are a fair amount of naysayers. But I don't see much credence in the objections I've heard.

The most ridiculous criticism is that it doesn't meet the terms by which the original neighborhood was destroyed, that it was done to create a larger tax base for the city, which a community center won't.

Honestly, people are still arguing that the city is supposed to honor the wishes of those who wielded the horrible axes of eminent domain? We've finally wrested away the stolen treasure and we're only going to spend it the way the thieves envisioned?

People objecting for that reason ought to consider that tumbleweeds have been blowing across the peninsula for the last 15 years, and not a single viable economic development project has appeared.

Maybe this is just what is needed, a busy community recreation center, to inject new life and interest in the neighborhood.

There is nothing in the law to prevent the city from using that property in a way that elected leaders believe will best serve the community.

There is also a lot of whining about the location, people suggesting all kinds of other places where a community center could be built, probably, I might suggest, closer to their own homes or businesses.

And if people have great ideas for other locations, they haven't done much all these years to lobby for them or work to bring a project together.

In fact, I think the Fort Trumbull location is geographically perfect.

I've walked the city a lot in all my pandemic wanderings, and I can say from experience that Fort Trumbull is quite walkable from a number of city neighborhoods, especially ones with underprivileged young people.

But there is nowhere you could put it that it wouldn't be hard for some people in the city to use.

It can't be in everyone's neighborhood. But it certainly can be on bus lines that serve the entire city.

I realize a good argument for putting it in Fort Trumbull is that it will be an amenity that is likely to attract other development. I agree with that.

But I like to think of it as a positive new way of looking at Fort Trumbull, the best move I've seen yet to steer away from the terrible decision so many years ago to abandon the homeowners of a vital, living city neighborhood.

This could quickly and finally restore some of that lifeblood and may even portend a new way at looking at this extraordinary little piece of the New London waterfront.

Bravo to city leaders.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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