New London Residents, Businesses, Leaders, Gather to Discuss Economic Development

Felix Reyes welcomes New London participants (CT Examiner/Hewitt)


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NEW LONDON — “What do you feel has been missing or needs improvement with respect to communications between the city and individual residents? How can city leaders better gain your trust?”

“What specific problems or issues do you feel impact the quality of life of those living and working in New London?”

Members of the Economic Development Commission directed these and other questions to about 60 residents, business owners and community leaders at a workshop Monday night that focused on ideas for supporting the city’s economy and identifying obstacles to growth.

The two-hour workshop, held at the Science and Technology Magnet High School, was free and open to the public.

In his opening remarks for the workshop, Felix Reyes, director of economic development for New London, said it was important for the city to be project-ready when state funding becomes available.

“I want to be ahead of the game. I want to be up front and say this is how money is flowing through the State of Connecticut and let’s get organized and be in position to allow those funds to flow into the city,” Reyes said.

Equipped with easel pads and markers, commission members led four breakout groups focused on specific topics. One group focused on planning and zoning as well as commercial and housing development. Another group looked at infrastructure and streetscape, municipal incentive programs, business recruitment and retention. Another group brainstormed on marketing and tourism, community development, colleges and universities. A fourth group discussed historic preservation, blight, sustainability and low-impact development.

Additional questions for all of the groups included, “What statistics or measurements should be used to track improvements in a problem area you have identified?” and “What makes you believe a problem area you have identified is impeding business growth or economic development?”

One group, led by commission member Mike Kegler, raised the question of the tax impact of proper home maintenance, especially how to incentivize house renovation and upkeep considering that a more rundown house will be assessed at a lower tax rate than one that is well-maintained.

“When people fix up their houses their taxes go up and if they let their houses fall apart, their taxes go down,” said Ronna Stuller, a Planning and Zoning Commission member.

“We have a tax system that reinforces bad behavior — which is non-investment — rather than good behavior, which is investment,” said another participant.

At the conclusion, quick takeaway questions from other groups included, “Who’s helping homeowners and neighborhoods?” and “Where do people spend their money on a Saturday afternoon with their kids?”

Afterwards, Melissa Ford, an Economic Development Commission member and one of the session’s organizers, said the first workshop was a success on many levels.

“It really represented New London and we had a diverse group — some old New London residents and some new. We were able to listen to each other and see the issues from a new set of glasses. I was really proud of New London,” she said.

Ford said the ideas from the four breakout sessions will be compiled and presented at the next workshop on February 24.

“We will look for similarities in all of the categories and come up with a project,” she said.

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