City of Groton, New London seeking ways to revitalize neighborhoods

New London and the City of Groton are tackling development efforts in areas separated by the Thames River but connected by the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

A joint effort involving projects at Hodges Square in New London and along Thames and Bridge Streets in Groton is dubbed the Thames River Reconnection, and in part is being funded by a grant through Thames River Innovation Place, via CTNext, a public-private network funding four designated Innovation Places that includes the Thames River region.

The idea behind the grant is to create places where talent wants to be, and consultants are trying to build complementary assets with the centerpiece being the Thames River, said Kevin Hively, owner of Ninigret Partners and lead consultant on the project. The goal is to create walkable neighborhoods that are destinations, said Groton City Planner Dennis Goderre.

The region, though it has economic challenges that would need to be worked through, also presents an opportunity for redevelopment, with its relatively inexpensive real estate and coastal location, along with the leadership exhibited by the communities and desire among people to be in more urban, amenity-rich areas, Hively said.

"I think this is one of the best long-term investment opportunities, because it’s one of the few remaining urban locations, basically from New York to Portland, that hasn’t been redeveloped in a major, major way," said Hively.

Upcoming workshops are planned in both Groton and New London to gather public input on ways to improve the targeted New London and Groton neighborhoods.

Thames and Bridge streets in Groton

Goderre said the project is about place-making and how to turn Thames Street, the historic downtown of the City of Groton, and Bridge Street into a destination, by looking at ways to revitalize the area, from zoning to transportation. The neighborhood is slated to be part of a Tax Increment Financing district, which will go to public hearing in September.

Consultants have been gathering data and will share their preliminary ideas such as options for waterfront access and rezoning, during an interactive workshop Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Groton City Municipal Building.

Hively said people can stop by at any point during the open hours and view educational boards on the key issues and topics, while consultants will be on hand to answer questions. A series of exercises will be held to get people's input on different "decision points."

One idea is create a waterfront amenity, such as piers or a boardwalk, or a combination of the two, to better leverage the city’s waterfront and draw people to Thames Street, Hively said.

As part of an initial effort to promote waterfront access, the city has received a $54,400 grant from the Connecticut Port Authority to design and engineer a new transient boating dock facility with a kayak launch for the city-owned park south of the pollution abatement facility on Thames Street, Goderre said. Though no funding for construction is in place, the city will be seeking grant funding for construction.

Consultants are proposing to preserve and enhance Thames Street, which has “great bones” and a classic, turn-of-the-century, New England coastal community appearance, while Bridge Street, an area with larger lots, including several owned by common ownership, represents an opportunity to create additional development and encourage mixed use, said Goderre and Hively. Preserving and enhancing Thames Street as the walkable main corridor would make living on Bridge Street more attractive, while the residents would be supporting the businesses on Thames Street, Hively pointed out.

Consultants also have been studying the idea of making Thames Street one way to create additional parking. Hively said various questions need to be thought through, including: Are there others ways to create additional parking to serve the corridor? If the street were to be one way, should it be set north heading south, or south heading north, and on what streets would cars needing to head in the opposite direction travel and would it impact the neighborhood?

The ideas are not final recommendations and are being proposed to solicit feedback, Hively said. The feedback will then drive the vision for the area, Goderre said.

Consultants will use the feedback they receive from residents to reshape the ideas and are expected to present a final report to the Groton City Council, likely in late June or early July. The report will include recommendations for redevelopment and an action plan detailing the steps to move them forward.

The city will be looking for all funding sources to implement the vision for Thames and Bridge Streets, said Goderre.

The consulting team is evaluating ways to possibly upgrade the bikeway on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge and make the entrance points more inviting, Goderre said. Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick has requested that the state Department of Transportation study the feasibility of adding a second pathway to the bridge, on the northbound side.

Hively also has raised the idea of a potential bikeway off the side of the railroad bridge. Hively said the proposal would be complicated and time intensive because it would require coordination with Amtrak and other entities, but isn’t unprecedented as there are examples of it across the country.

Hodges Square in New London

Hodges Square, an area of the city that became isolated from downtown with the construction of Interstate 95, has been the focus of a revitalization efforts for several years, in part due to the efforts of the Hodges Square Village Association. The area connects Connecticut College and the Coast Guard Academy to the southern portion of New London.

The city, which lacks the resources to complete major projects on its own, has already pooled a mix of funding sources to design and start construction on pedestrian improvements and beautification efforts in part to create a safer connection from the schools to Hodges Square.

The funding includes a total of $1.3 million in federal funds through the federal Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternative Program, or TAP. A portion of the money would improve the deteriorating sidewalks on Williams Street from the Waterford town line to Briggs Street. Connecticut College and the city jointly shared the 20 percent match to secure $762,381 in 2017.

The city more recently secured an additional $560,000 in TAP funding for continuation of that project to Huntington Street — focusing on pedestrian and bicyclist safety. There are also roadside plantings, additional roadside parking and improved lighting planned, said New London City Planner Sybil Tetteh.

Design of that work is being reviewed by the state Department of Transportation with construction expected to start later this year.

New London and Groton jointly were awarded $197,000 from Thames River Innovation Place during the first year of funding. New London has applied for $192,000 in TRIP funding in this year’s third round, money aimed at implementation of previous efforts and to shape public land into venues for public events and artwork.

Tetteh said the idea is to transform underutilized public places for the purposes of hosting events while creating a sense of place with artwork and murals.

The idea is "to improve the public realm in Hodges Square, one of the gateways into New London,” Tetteh said.

Tetteh said the May 8 gathering from 6 to 8 p.m. at Winthrop STEM Elementary School should be a community led workshop to further solicit ideas on how to improve the neighborhood.

Much of the work in Hodges Square harks back to a larger plan for improvements to the area outlined in a 2013 Creative Placemaking Master Plan, a grant-funded study sponsored by the nonprofit New London Landmarks. The plan addresses the challenges of reconnecting the Hodges Square business district, Riverside Park and Crystal Avenue neighborhoods with the city, among other things.

The city, with input from the Riverside Park Conservancy, has tackled improvements at Riverside Park, clearing trees to create better views and establishing walking paths and parking areas among other projects. The city recently announced it was further restricting traffic into the park for the benefit of pedestrian safety.

k.drelich@theday.com

g.smith@theday.com

 

if you go

What: Interactive workshop for redevelopment of Thames and Bridge streets

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 9 (drop in anytime)

Where: Municipal Building Auditorium, 295 Meridian St., Groton

 

What: Drop In Workshop

When: 6 to 8 p.m. May 8

Where: Winthrop STEM Elementary School, room 131, 74 Grove St., New London

 

 

 

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