NORWICH — The City of Norwich Common Council heard a presentation on “placemaking” possibilities in the city during Tuesday's common council meeting. The presentation was led by Dana Wall, a project director with international boutique consulting firm Street Plans.
She explained how the concept of placemaking, which she described as "the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play, and learn in,"could be used to tie together the nine projects to be implemented in the City of Norwich using the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant.
Commerce Chenango President and CEO Sal Testani said he invited Wall to give this presentation to attendees at the recent DRI celebration and to the common council to get stakeholders thinking about how to go beyond the nine DRI projects and truly transform downtown Norwich.
"I started out by trying to figure out, was there anybody out there at the state or some other governmental agency that would help us plan the implementation of these projects? Because my concern is, if we implement nine of these projects perfectly and nothing else changes in downtown Norwich, do you really think it will be revitalized? I don’t think it will," said Testani.
So far, no company has been hired to assist with the planning and development of placemaking projects. Testani said if the city decides to hire a consulting firm like Street Plans, they would need to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP), after which companies that specialize in placemaking would bid to be hired on for the task.
Placemaking would not only create smaller projects that tie together the larger DRI projects for an overall cohesive area, it would also give other businesses and organizations outside of the DRI area the chance to implement their own upgrades to storefronts and facilities.
"I think initially we would probably be looking at the DRI area with the intention as the phases go on, we’d like to open this up beyond that area. City wide would be the intention down the road, but initially it’s going to be within the DRI designation," explained City of Norwich Community Development Director Erik Scrivener.
Plus, Wall said placemaking through Street Plans would not only help to implement these smaller projects, it could also help with less physical improvements, such as finding ways to allow things to take place in public spaces more easily, or identifying opportunities for small businesses to apply for funding sources. Ultimately, finding ways to streamline processes like those is the goal.
In terms of tangible projects for downtown Norwich, Wall said some examples could include wayfinding to help direct visitors through the city while also providing great opportunities for public art and seating, turning pieces of Broad Street into public spaces, and updating intersections with pedestrian safety measures.
Another benefit of placemaking initiatives is the opportunity for tactical urbanism, a process utilized by Street Plans to create and implement small, temporary projects to test out placemaking ideas before spending the resources needed to make permanent changes.
Scrivener said a great example of tactical urbanism possibilities is the city's DRI project on American Avenue.
"Test running it before we actually implement it and spending our money to do that is really going to be, I think, critical to have success down there," he said. "That’s an area we’re looking at, some kind of tactical urbanism or something along those lines to really lay out what that future can be on American Avenue."
Other ideas floated during the meeting included transforming the parking lot near Magro's and the Bohemian Moon into a public seating area, or renovating the Hayes Street parking lot to create more interesting and inviting entrances to the restaurants and stores in that area.
"One of my thoughts was that one of the largest projects we have in the DRI is the hotel, which fronts on South Broad, but they're going to have a main entrance in the back in the parking lot, the Hayes Street parking lot," said Alderman Dave Zieno. "There’s a lot of traffic that goes into there now, into the local restaurants, into the drugstore, and we’re going to have even more, and my thought was maybe a redesign of the back of those buildings so that they could have some nice entrances back there, maybe a nice walkway back there, because there’s going to be more people back there."
Ultimately, council members were interested in the possibilities available through placemaking, and saw it as an option for achieving the overall revitalization of downtown Norwich.
"I think it opens up opportunities for businesses outside of the DRI area to kind of maximize on their potential,"said Alderman Robert Jeffrey. "It would be very effective. Very effective. I think this is something that’s very attractive for us."