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UPDATED: Stonington begins considering creation of cultural districts

Stonington — Wendy Bury, the executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, outlined an opportunity Tuesday for the town to form a designated cultural district that she said would provide a host of benefits for the community.

Last week, New London voted to begin the process of forming a designated cultural district. The cultural coalition will help shepherd New London's effort through the state approval process. Bury said the City of Groton, Norwich and Lyme also are considering establishing districts.

At a meeting of the town's Economic Development Commission, Bury explained a cultural district is a specifically designated area of town that contains cultural facilities, activities and assets, and which is walkable. 

She said that among a district's many benefits is that it can be marketed to visitors, promoted to potential new businesses and help improve the community's quality of life.

Bury said elements of a district would include museums, arts, activities, history, heritage and food. 

She said the town has two potential districts: Stonington Borough and Mystic. She said Pawcatuck does not have enough assets on its own and the state does would not allow a district to spill over state lines to include vibrant downtown Westerly. She said that to obtain a designation for Mystic, Stonington would have to work with the town of Groton.

Bury outlined the various steps the town would have to take, including approving a district, creating a cultural district commission and creating a map of the assets.

Commission members expressed support for the effort.

"It's an exciting concept. To think we could promote our cultural assets so people could see what Stonington has to offer is exciting and enticing," Economic Development Commission Chairman Dave Hammond said.

But commission member Dan McFadden, spokesman for Mystic Seaport Museum, said that while he sees benefits, obtaining a district designation would involve a lot of work and time, with the state not providing much reward in exchange. He asked why the town could not just create its own district, which Bury said the town could do.

But Bury said the state tourism office would promote designated cultural districts in its marketing. She added communities such as Norwich and New London see the effort as a way to get entities working together in a way they have not in the past.  

Commission member Peter Robinson will now develop a proposal for a path forward for the commission on the idea and report back at its May meeting. 

j.wojtas@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version correctly states that the City of New London has begun the process of obtaining state designation for a cultural district.

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