Area towns can be destinations, too
Published 10:53 am, Thursday, August 29, 2013
So what does it take to transform a downtown into a popular destination?
That is a question that has been grappled with -- with mixed results -- by a good number of communities in this part of the state over the years.
Right now, the city of Danbury and the town of Brookfield are engaged in aggressive downtown revitalization projects -- Danbury for Main Street and environs, Brookfield for its Four Corners business district.
New Milford has done a really good job polishing its gem of a downtown over the past two decades.
And that process continues today with the refurbishment of several downtown properties by Sherman entrepreneur Gary Goldring, who has put his signature on those efforts by placing a clock tower atop the former Slone Pharmacy, at the corner of Main and Bank streets.
Kent and the New Preston section of Washington have turned themselves into significant attractions for tourists and shoppers.
Ridgefield and Bethel have also succeeded in developing attractive downtowns.
To develop a calling-card downtown, it helps to have natural geographic advantages, like proximity to a waterfront or a beautiful old New England Green.
It is no secret Connecticut towns like Mystic and Essex benefit from their waterfront locations, as do well-known vacation spots from Newport and Cape Cod to Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor.
Towns in the Greater Danbury and New Milford area will never have oceanfront views, but places like Brookfield, New Milford and Kent could do more to include the rivers that run through them in their downtown offerings.
There is no question a major draw to New Milford is its Village Green -- one of the most beautiful in New England.
The town hosts countless events on the Green, and those events bring people to the downtown -- and to the village center shopping district.
But you don't need an ocean, river or Green to develop a popular downtown.
What you need are reasons for people to come to your town -- an attractive shopping district, plenty of arts and culture, a movie theater, nice restaurants, an ice cream shop, a coffeehouse, sporting events, outdoor activities, a comfortable, enticing environment in which you can walk around and relax.
Kent was a sleepy little village in the middle of nowhere until the combination of a growing number of art galleries, the opening of Fife'n Drum Restaurant and the emergence of a vibrant mix of upscale shops and stores, along with the appeal of Kent Falls and Macedonia State Park, put the town on the map.
Same for tiny New Preston.
That little hamlet used to be considered "the other side of the tracks" from more affluent Washington Depot. Through the investments of a few upscale business owners, New Preston is now a place to visit and shop.
It certainly helps to have major attractions in your town.
Up in the nearby Berkshires in Massachusetts, Stockbridge benefits from the Red Lion Inn and the Norman Rockwell Museum; thousands flock to Lenox to hear music at Tanglewood; and Williamstown is a mecca for art lovers with its Clark Art Institute, Williamstown Theatre Festival and nearby Mass MOCA.
No town around here can quite match those attractions, but the area has plenty to offer.
Candlewood Lake draws in countless tourists and summer residents to five area towns; the Ridgefield Playhouse brings in thousands to the Ridgefield downtown; the Danbury Whalers, diverse restaurants, and numerous arts, cultural and community events are a big plus for the city of Danbury; and every area town boasts unique offerings and hosts popular annual events.
But those calling cards are only a starting point.
Danbury, in particular, needs to offer city and area residents more reasons to come to the downtown.
So does Brookfield as it progresses with its previously long-ignored Four Corners project.
So do pretty much all the other area towns if they want to maintain and/or develop vibrant downtowns.
Destination locations are destinations for a reason: They are great places to visit, and they are well-marketed.
Area towns are wonderful places, too, and, with some added attractions and effective marketing, the downtowns in this part of the state can move up the list of places for people to go.
Art Cummings is editor emeritus of The News-Times. He can be contacted at 203-731-3351 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.