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Report provides process to create Thames River Heritage Park

Think of it as a kind of blueprint and instruction manual to create and operate a new attraction for the region.

The Thames River Heritage Park Plan, sent this week by the Yale Urban Design Workshop to the steering committee working to start the park, is the long-awaited guidebook for getting from concept to reality.

"It provides a plan for us to move forward, with a lot of reasonable alternatives to present and manage the park," Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith, a member of the steering committee, said Thursday. "It's a great foundation."

The 100-page document is the result of a two-year effort initiated by the Avery-Copp House in Groton to revive a plan dating back more than 50 years to package existing historical and cultural sites in Groton and New London that share a common relationship with the Thames River estuary into a multisite state park. Interest in the idea has waxed and waned over the years, and an initial investment of $2 million was made in the 1990s and early 2000s to build some of the infrastructure for the park, such as the water taxi landing on Thames Street in Groton.

The park would have four anchor sites - Fort Trumbull State Park and the proposed National Coast Guard Museum in New London, and Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park and the Submarine Force Museum in Groton - plus more than a dozen smaller ones. These would continue operating independently but also collaborate on events, parking, schedules, marketing and other areas, connected with a water taxi, pedestrian and bike paths, common signage and Internet presence, according to the report. Spurred by a successful pilot run of water taxi services this fall, a bill is currently pending in the General Assembly to fund a vessel this summer.

The park would help make the Thames River region "a destination in and of itself, not a side show to Mystic or the casinos," the report states.

As described in the report, there would be multiple entry points for the park, with a virtual visitors center to serve as a guide and interpreter.

The park "will not only be a place, it would also be a platform upon which partner organizations can collaborate, seek funding, develop programming and build capacity," the report states. "The Thames River Heritage Park has the potential to make the region as a whole greater than the sum of its individual parts. While enriching each local partner by making it part of a larger network, the park will help define the region's cultural identity, encourage sustainable tourism, and with minimal investment produce a substantial regional economic impact."

Penny Parsekian, development, communications and special projects consultant to the Avery-Copp House, said the plan is currently a draft. The board of the Avery-Copp House will vote next month on whether to accept it as final, she said. It is not expected to undergo major changes, however, and is already being advanced by steering committee members as a means of enlisting support for the park.

"This report really provides a road map for how to actually implement the park, and can help the public visualize the whole concept," Parsekian said.

A public meeting to present the report will be scheduled in the coming weeks, she added.

Galbraith said she has sent a copy of the report to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office and requested a meeting with his staff, including commissioners of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Transportation. State support is key, she said, since it would be a state park, albeit one unique in Connecticut that would likely operate as a public-private nonprofit entity. That structure is among the key recommendations of the report.

"It may be that a non-profit entity is better equipped than the state to perform some of the roles to sustain the heritage park, especially in an era of uncertain state budgets," the report states.

Among other recommendations:

• An organizational structure should be created consisting of representatives of Groton and New London, the state and an independent, nonprofit corporation.

• A local leader should be tapped to shepherd the project forward.

• A 10-year implementation plan should be written.

• Funding streams should be found outside of state funding, including grants, foundation support and tax-deductible contributions.

• Coordinated directional signage should be developed.

• A coordinated transportation network should be established.

• A website and GPS-enabled mobile application should be created.

• Park-wide events and programming should be planned.

• Short-term projects should be identified and carried out "that can translate the energy and concerns of the planning process into immediate and visible action." These would serve to build momentum and demonstrate regional commitment to creation of the park.

The report concludes with a list of actions that should be taken in the next one to three years, those that should be taken over the next two to five years, and five-to-10 year projects.

The first phase includes:

• hiring an executive director.

• developing a plan to recruit volunteers.

• hiring a part-time education director.

• establishing relationships with restaurants, shops and hotels.

• establishing a water taxi landing at the Submarine Force Museum.

• supporting the completion of the Coast Guard Museum.

• commissioning a detailed master plan for improvements to Fort Griswold.

• developing a detailed regional traffic and parking plan.

The second phase includes:

• developing thematic programming between park partners.

• developing educational programming for elementary and secondary school students.

• collaborating with faculty and students at the Avery Point campus of the University of Connecticut, Mitchell College, Connecticut College and the Coast Guard Academy.

• commissioning a study to improve pedestrian and bicycle paths between downtown New London and Fort Trumbull, including a bridge across Shaw's Cove.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

 

Read the report

The draft report can be found at:

https://yale.box.com/Thames

https://issuu.com/urbandesignworkshop

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