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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    OPINION: Lawmakers propose expanding Mystic tourism

    People watch as the Mystic River Bascule Bridge opens for boat traffic on the river in downtown Mystic during a dedication ceremony Oct.15, 2022, the bridge’s 100th anniversary. Dana Jensen/The Day file photo
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    My first reaction to proposed legislation that would create a study group to explore how to expand tourism in Mystic was a bit of alarm.

    It already seems like it’s spinning out of control on its own, thank you.

    Do we really need more tourism?

    But I’m a big fan of studying important issues, and given the enormous economic impact of Mystic tourism, locally and to the state, it’s certainly a topic ripe for exploration.

    I know there are a lot of tourism-reliant businesses that pay a lot of taxes and local wages and that would welcome more state attention and resources. This could lead to that.

    It is at least acknowledgment in Hartford of how important the tourism in this region is to the state’s economy.

    The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and Rep. Aundré Bumgardner, D-Groton, proposes a sort of task force made up of representatives of Groton and Stonington, the major Mystic tourism attractions and a chamber-of-commerce-like organization.

    They would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders and tasked with developing a study report by the start of 2025.

    The study group would be asked to develop proposals to “develop and expand tourist destinations” and to develop initiatives to promote tourism through marketing, events and partnerships with local businesses and attractions.

    The bill, which is competing with other measures in the short session of the General Assembly, is nearing a deadline to make it to a vote. Bumgardner says he thinks it will make it out of committee by next week.

    A companion measure in the Commerce Committee, also under a tight deadline, would create a task force exploring the creation of a multimodal transportation center in Mystic, looking at parking options, shuttles and water taxis.

    I think everyone around Mystic would welcome some critical thinking about addressing the growing traffic congestion. It’s already beginning to threaten the golden goose of tourism.

    If people eventually can’t get in and out, they’ll give up trying to visit.

    Both bills have had public hearings, with much of the testimony coming from representatives of the big tourism drivers, Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport Museum, who gave the ideas big thumbs up.

    Bill Middletown, head of Cannonball Management, which runs four restaurants and is developing a boutique hotel in Mystic, suggested in written testimony on the transportation bill that the time is right.

    “The timing is critical in that southeastern Connecticut is something of a unicorn as it is a rare pocket of growth in the state, which can only be expected to continue and accelerate,” he said. In short, the world is coming, and we need to be prepared.”

    A lot of the work to be done is tuning infrastructure that already exists, Middleton suggested.

    “We have a rare generational opportunity to map out and combine the area’s unique transportation resources . . . there is primarily a need for thoughtful planning and coordination, which this bill provides for.”

    Many of those commenting on the tourism expansion bill suggested widening the area of study and including more voices, including representatives from more small tourism-related businesses.

    It seems appropriate, in fact, to look at the success of Mystic tourism within the larger context of the region and state.

    Indeed, widening the tourism net might ease some of the Mystic congestion and growing pains while moving the sector to a new peak.

    Peter Armstrong, president of Mystic Seaport Museum, noted that his museum, the largest maritime museum in America and one of the five largest of its kind in the world, directly and indirectly employs more than 500 people.

    “I support the need to expand the focus beyond the Mystic Seaport Museum area alone allowing for a more holistic approach to tourism development, considering the interconnectedness of neighboring communities and attractions,” Armstrong said.

    “This broader perspective would not only enhance the effectiveness of the working group's efforts but also promote collaborative initiatives that benefit the entire region.”

    I’m for that, spreading the tourism wealth.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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