New Canaan MDS reveals final recommendations
Updated 12:10 pm, Monday, January 30, 2012
More than a year has passed since the Market Demand Study Committee was commissioned to review the state of commerce in New Canaan. Tuesday night the committee and its consultants, BFJ Planning and Urbanomics, were finally able to present their final report to the community.
The study itself was a recommendation from the 2007 Downtown New Canaan Strategic Plan. The town received a $75,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant in 2009 to cover the costs of the initiative.
"There is something unique New Canaan has to offer and there is something that brings people here," Susan Favate of BFJ Planning said. "That is not likely to change."
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Many of the recommendations were built off rigorous research, interviews with merchants, consumers, focus groups and an online survey.
In the report, new and expanded suggested uses for downtown include grocery/specialty food stores, designer clothing/accessories stores, youth-oriented/sports stores, restaurants/inns, medical offices and even cultural uses of the downtown theater.
Favate says with those suggestions New Canaan has the potential to capture about 10 percent of the leakage to other towns in the next 10 to 15 years.
Another recommendation dealt with a zoning change that would put a 5,000-square-foot cap on stores in downtown to support small-scale and mom-and-pop-type businesses. Favate said the current 7,500-square-foot cap would still be available under a special permit with the proposal.
However, most of the talk at the meeting dealt with the arts and what really attracts people to New Canaan. MDS chairman John Goodwin and Favate explained how places like The Glass House, Silvermine Arts Center, the Historical Society, Nature Center and Waveny could bring more business to New Canaan.
"These are all special unique New Canaan attractions that are currently working on their own and are very successful at it," Favate said. "But they could be more successful."
New Canaan resident Ed Vollmer commented on that notion.
"We have a lot of things going on with the Glass House and Historical Society," Vollmer said. "[New Canaan] certainly could be a center for the arts; to a degree it already is. These are things that could be promoted and fostered."
Resident Terry Spring agreed with Vollmer and added that the town's historical district should be highlighted with tours and other incentives.
"We should do more with our historic district. It is within walking distance of the train. We have some wonderful things the historical society can show," Spring said. "I think the thought of jazzing up the historic district and making sure that (there are) things like tours would be great. I think residents would be very pleased to see these things."
Accomplishing such tasks would require partnerships, Goodwin said. He hopes the town will explore some of these partnerships to enhance downtown.
"I think we've identified some specific reasons why people do come to New Canaan with the Glass House and Silvermine," Goodwin said. "We don't think there is a lot of cross marketing between Silvermine and the downtown, but there is an opportunity there to explore."
In order to accomplish many of these recommendations, the committee and the consultants have suggested the creation of a new institutional entity that could work like a public-private economic development commission model. Goodwin said attention would have to be brought to the necessary town bodies in order to make sure these suggestions get implemented.
The MDS executive summary and presentation can be found on the town's website.