Among the initiatives underway in New Canaan to help the town better plan for the future, you may have heard about something called the Market Demand Study. I would like to provide an outline of the committee's objectives, plan of action and to ask for your help.

I am pleased to be the committee chairman along with my colleagues Jarvis Cromwell, Tucker Murphy, Leslie Razook and Kajsa Sheibley, and our town planner, Steve Kleppin, as an ex-officio member. The effort's origin comes from the 2007 Downtown Planning Study. Recognizing that downtown is the heart of our community, and a gem at that, the study sought to examine our town center's conditions and to recommend actions to achieve the goal of enhancing and sustaining it for the future. Included in their recommendations was a Market Demand Study. That evolved from a critical discussion related to the town's business mix -- what are we missing that is desirable to have and how can we protect and enhance our existing businesses? Since then, with the economic downturn, many feel the question has become only more pressing.

To perform the study, the town received a Small Town Economic Assistance Plan grant from Connecticut's Department of Economic and Community Development. Therefore the costs will be borne by the State. Driving the effort is the hiring of an expert consulting firm to analyze current town conditions and most critically, produce actionable recommendations. When done well, there is a successful record of enhancements to town's vitality. The committee first met in November to review 11 firm submissions and cut that to five for in-person interviews. Two finalists were selected and the committee proceeded into detailed plan and budget discussions, follow-up on key questions and reference checks. This past week, the committee conducted final interviews and selected BFJ Planning of New York. Critical drivers behind the choice included deep experience with towns like New Canaan, records of studies producing actionable results and strong references. A key issue was BFJ's involvement as a sub-contractor to the Long Range Planning Committee. We debated the positive of an in-place familiarity with the town versus the risk of not receiving a `fresh look' that another firm could provide. We concluded that there would be a fresh perspective brought to bear particularly by BFJ's partner, Urbanomics, who will handle the survey and analytical work.

The next steps in the approximate six-month project is to assess the existing commercial make-up of downtown, determine what potential and future market demands we should expect, identify what desirable business potential is not being captured and present strategies to realize the opportunities. Included in the process will be a market research effort with both our town businesses and citizens to identify needs, preferences and challenges. This will be composed of survey efforts and a town forum. In addition, related issues to address will include parking, traffic impacts and zoning strategies. The project will be coordinated with the Long Range Planning Committee, the Senior Housing Initiative and other critical efforts.

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Finally, how can you help? If you are contacted as part of the demand analysis, please participate! Also, keep an eye out for the public workshop and feel free to attend our meetings and provide your input.

You can also e-mail Steve Kleppin with any thoughts and recommendations at Steven.Kleppin@NewCanaanCT.gov.