This weekend’s FROM WALLINGFORD (from December 27, 2009) is written by my counterpart on the column Steve Knight – former Wallingford Town Councilor.
The economic health of a community is reflected in the vibrancy of its downtown area. For the past twenty-five years, the Town of Wallingford’s government has understood that axiom and its public officials have invested millions of dollars to retain downtown Wallingford.
It has been money well spent. All the brickwork, period lighting and other streetscape features that were constructed have made downtown an attractive place to visit and a good place to do business. In addition to that, other businesses that consider locating in Wallingford consider our healthy downtown area a real positive as they weigh their decision.
But bricks and mortar are not enough. In order for downtown areas to compete with all the big box stores, strip malls and shopping centers, there needs to be a voice speaking up for and marketing the unique aspects of town centers. We have that in the Town-supported organization called Wallingford Center Inc. I am one of their board members, and this being a quiet period of year for town politics, I thought I would share with you some of the things going on downtown in which WCI is involved.
Most of WCI’s activities center around 1) holding events that raise awareness of what is downtown, 2) assisting businesses in attracting customers to downtown Wallingford and 3) being an advocate for the downtown area.
Holding events: Most everyone knows that Celebrate Wallingford held in October is organized by WCI. It is the town’s premier community-wide event, and it draws thousands of people every year. But other events are being added of which some people may not be aware. The Wallingford Garden Club, with assistance from WCI, is holding a Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings during the summer down at Joanna Fishbein Park. That is becoming a mini-Celebrate Wallingford, with dozens of vendors selling not just food products but crafts as well. This year, our energetic, creative and positive Executive Director Liz Landow conceived of and organized the first annual Holiday Shopping event on Friday evening from 4 to 8pm, December 11th, where most all of the downtown merchants stayed open late, had special sales and offered food and music to customers. One other event in which WCI participated for the first time was the Seasons of Celebration event on December 5th put on by the Public Celebrations Committee.
Assisting businesses: WCI acts as an agency to whom downtown businesses can turn for assistance in various ways. One good example is the façade program, now in its second year. The town has given WCI $5,000 per year to distribute in $500 grants to businesses that want to improve the outside façade of their stores. Not only does this provide some financial help, but WCI Board president Steve Lazarus provides architectural and design assistance to those merchants who are making those improvements.
Advocating for downtown: Because they face the competition they do, downtown areas are fragile economies. Malls and big box stores, once built, have little need for public services. Downtown areas are different because it is local government that provides roads, sidewalks, parking, snow-plowing, street lights etc. WCI represents the merchants and residents in the downtown area, bringing their concerns to municipal government. A good example of that are the recent changes in the sign ordinance. WCI worked directly with Planning & Zoning to obtain special language in the ordinance that would apply only to downtown businesses. WCI will then work with the merchants so that they understand the new regulations.
Our predecessors who conceived of Wallingford Center Inc. did a great service to all Wallingford residents. A healthy, vibrant and successful downtown Wallingford is a huge benefit not only to the residents and merchants in that area but also to all of us. Because as goes the condition of the downtown area, so go the property values and quality of life for every person in our community.