For those who are not familiar with Groton, Connecticut, it is a town with unusual geography. In the 19th century, it was split between Groton Bank, which was the portion of Groton on the bank of the Thames River, which was densely populated and supported by the shipping industry, and the town of Groton, which was the rest of the town's 45 square miles, was sparse farmland with occasional villages.
|Annotated map of Groton from Google Maps.
Apologizes for the business pins. No way to remove the ads.
A short way further down that road, one finds Town Hall, the major town field Poquonnock Plains Park, the Public Library, Groton Recreation Building, and the Groton Senior Center, which forms something of a municipal district.
|Zoomed in on Downtown Groton. This map is about a mile
from one end to the other. Town Hall is at the far right.
Long Hill Road is at the far left.
While we often think of Downtown as referring to an urban center, "Downtown" is really just the core of business and commercial activity in the area, which is what Groton's "Downtown" is, thus why it is called Downtown Groton. While towns like New London, Norwich, and Westerly have more traditional 19th century style downtowns, Groton, like Waterford, has a post-war style downtown area, built along the 1950s and 1960s concepts of separating various forms of zoning to different parts of town: commercial here, residential there, industrial in the other place.
|Long Hill Road is affectionately referred to as Hamburger
Hill, because there are actually at least half a dozen
places along the short stretch of road to get a hamburger.
Some of the burgers are better than others.
Downtown Groton contains 5 main shopping plazas plus a number of other freestanding businesses and smaller plazas. Within and near Downtown, a shopper can find nearly anything they seek, including groceries, clothes, Post Office, auto dealerships, a hardware store, hobbies and entertainment, pet supplies, and more.
Is it a beautiful area with quaint New England charm? No. Is it a downtown hub of commercial activity, absolutely.
|Citadel Game Cellar has something
going on almost every day.
While Downtown Groton leaves quite a bit to be desired, it's not an embarrassment either, bringing millions of dollars of economic activity to the town and tremendous revenues onto the tax rolls.
In discussing the Downtown designation, Mr. Collins says:
It turns out, I discovered after a search of the town website, the term downtown used for that section of Route 1 was sealed in a 2006 planning study for the town, which envisioned all kinds of mixed-use development around the old shopping centers — development that, of course, never happened.
The Groton Strategic Development Plan envisioned that construction of more housing and an effort to make the area more "walkable" would transform the area that the study authors conceded, because of its age and design, "can no longer compete as a traditional suburban-style shopping destination."
So, as the authors note, it is a tired, old shopping district. And all the development they envisioned that would make it into a downtown has never happened. Still, that's the downtown interstate travelers will be directed to, about the worst of what Groton has to offer.Let's talk about what we can find in the "worst of what Groton has to offer."
In this stretch you can find American, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Japanese, and Chinese food.
|This one plaza has Indian, Japanese, and Thai food, plus an
Indian grocery store.
|In this plaza, you can work out, buy groceries, buy clothes,
and get a new set of spark plugs.
|Groton Shoppers Mart suffers from having too many owners
who cannot agree on how to manage, improve or sell it, so
it just kind of exists.
There are basically two ways to cause redevelopment occur on privately held, developed land. The town can create incentives and try to get buy-in from the land owners, or they can try to use eminent domain to claim the property and force the changes. The eminent domain solution has certain problems.
|Certain problems with eminent domain.
Did anything happen within the years shortly after 2006 that might have deterred that process?
|Oh, yeah, that.
Downtown Groton is the second area of the town that will become a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in order to help finance these developments. TIF is a brilliant policy in which future tax revenues can be used as guarantees against loans for infrastructure necessary for development. The financing is procured by the developers, not the town, and the developer is responsible for it, but they are able to use a portion of the increased tax revenues to pay off the loans. The town only pays if the development happens and the tax revenues increase. The developer gets the loan paid for them as long as they hold up their part. Everyone wins, most of all the people of Groton win.
It must be very difficult to write a weekly column, which would explain why Mr. Collins failed to do even the most basic research into the current situation. Research which could have included asking his colleague who wrote an article on the EDC tour which ran in the same issue as his column.
I wouldn't know what it's like to write a weekly column like that. I only have experience writing a daily one.