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    Local Columns
    Saturday, February 24, 2024

    OPINION: A thriving New London will survive a wings joint closing

    I’ll admit to a fair amount of criticism delivered to New London city officials over the years for not being more attentive to problems downtown, especially not holding owners of abandoned buildings to account, for their contributions to blight.

    I have also watched, over many years, the pendulum of downtown prospects swinging back and forth, with a full-fledged revival often tantalizingly out of reach, only visible on the distant horizon.

    But I have always bristled at the suggestion from suburban quarters, especially conservatives there, that downtown is not safe.

    This horrible, untrue smear reached a fevered pitch a few years ago, when a local right-wing radio station used to broadcast a siren on the air and darkly warn listeners to stay out of New London because of the crime.

    New London is a little city with more crime than surrounding suburban towns, most of it centered within the illegal drug trade, but the idea that the downtown streets are not safe because of street crime is absurd.

    So I was a little distressed by a colleague’s recent column criticizing New London’s downtown, suggesting it is was unsafe, without enough police patrols.

    More perplexing was the suggestion that somehow the closing of a wings joint on Bank Street is somehow the end of commerce downtown, with a bleak future ahead.

    I don’t think that could be more wrong.

    I never liked that restaurant much, although I grant that it was successful over the years, a mainstay on Bank Street. But, really, even the owner apparently acknowledged it was tired. New downtown customers are perhaps more discerning,

    Restaurants have a shelf life.

    Just for the record, because my colleague avoided any statistics in scaring people, violent crime, according to the latest official reporting last year, is down in the city.

    The only thing that went up slightly was murder and rape, and honestly, if you think you are going to get murdered or raped while downtown for dinner or drinks you really ought to stay home, lock the doors and suck your thumb.

    I am happy to suggest, after all those years of watching the pendulum swing back and forth, it seems to be breaking its rhythm, on its way to a robust renaissance.

    There are new tenants in storefronts, interesting new restaurants, representing a lot of diversity, and, most important, lots more people, including young professionals and students, are taking up residence.

    That growing tide of new residents, with lots more apartments on the drawing board, is almost certainly what will keep the pendulum going the right way.

    Feeling, I guess, somehow responsible for the paper’s bad press on downtown, I made a dinner visit Saturday to Favorites Bistro Bar on Bank. There was a talented jazz band playing, the food and service was excellent, and I doubt anyone had a better night-out experience in Mystic, Westerly or Niantic.

    If you’re missing wings, try Bank Street’s newest purveyor of them, the Blue Duck. I want to try their Monday night special, all-you-can-eat wings and a beer for $20.

    New London offers a genuine urban environment that the suburbs can’t replicate. Walk along Bank Street, where commerce has existed since before whale ships filled the wharves, and, day or night, you can see the spread of New London Harbor and its passing ships.

    Trains and ferries converge here. People live downtown and more are coming.

    It’s true that, as in any city, you may be greeted by a homeless person hoping for a handout. There are still empty buildings and blight the city needs to address.

    If that bothers you, stick to suburban restaurants in shopping centers. You won’t know what you’re missing.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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