New Norwich effort will promote multicultural events, businesses

Norwich — Representatives from several organizations stood on the steps of Chelsea Groton Bank on Main Street on Thursday morning to launch Global City Initiative, a multicultural program designed to “bring people together to participate in rich, diverse, multicultural experiences that residents of Norwich and its surrounding communities have to offer.”

The effort is being funded with $100,000 from the Chelsea Groton Foundation and also will promote minority-owned business ventures.

Michael Rauh, president and CEO of Chelsea Groton Bank, told the 20 people gathered that the foundation’s funding is part of its goal to spark excitement in downtown revitalization efforts. Rauh noted that in the block surrounding the bank’s dominant presence downtown, international businesses already have sprung up, including restaurants and grocery stores. Diverse immigrant groups already are living, working and seeking downtown services.

“I’m a downtown junkie,” Rauh said. “I love small New England downtowns.”

Downtown Norwich, he said, is in a “Catch 22” situation. Businesses want to see a population base and high activity before locating in an area, and people want to see businesses and activities before moving to an area. Downtown Norwich already has the cultural diversity, with more than 30 languages spoken in city schools. Global City Initiative will work on “how we can embrace this diversity.”

The grant was awarded to the Norwich Community Development Corp. to launch the program. NCDC President Robert Mills said he will call on representatives from Otis Library, local churches and cultural groups to coordinate events that already exist, such as Greek and Italian food festivals, and propose new ones, such as a possible downtown Chinese New Year festival.

One key partner in the program will be Otis Library, which received a National Medal for Museum and Library Service in a 2016 White House ceremony in part recognizing its outreach to immigrants and multicultural programs. Otis multicultural service coordinator Bassem Gayed earlier this month was honored with a Connecticut Immigrant Day Award at the state Capitol.

“I was thrilled when I heard about this initiative last week,” said Gayed, an Egyptian immigrant and 10-year Otis Library official.

Gayed said he has built relationships over the past several years with local immigrant populations, enlisting bilingual speakers to translate Otis’ many services into different languages. Gayed told the group Thursday that Otis will help promote new and existing multicultural events downtown.

The Chelsea Groton Foundation grant is anticipated to run for three years initially, and NCDC will seek additional donations and grants to add to the effort. A coordinator will be hired to plan and promote events with sponsoring groups.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom has placed $50,000 in the City Council’s proposed budget for “multicultural development program” and another $50,000 for “marketing and branding” Norwich. Nystrom called the multicultural program funding a match for the Chelsea Groton Foundation money. The city’s money would pay for city services needed for public events, such as police coverage, traffic diversion and Public Works Department support.

The funding requests first would have to survive the spring budget deliberations, including Nystrom’s and other council Republicans’ call for a 5 percent reduction in the proposed city government budget.

“The city must be an active player,” Nystrom said at Thursday’s news conference announcement. “We can’t just leave it up to the private sector.”

Rauh said Chelsea Groton Foundation was created 20 years ago with a $2 million investment to support community functions. For years, the foundation used proceeds from the fund to award grants totaling about $150,000 per year. Three years ago, the bank boosted the foundation to $10 million and annual grant awards to $450,000 starting in 2017.

“Now we can do more to move the community forward and be proactive in our bequests,” Rauh said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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