NORWALK, Conn. — A $165,000 pilot program, formulated in response to feedback from Norwalk businesses, is set to launch, City officials said Wednesday.
The Small Business and Main Street Program has been in the works for six months and was made possible by Mayor Harry Rilling’s reorganization of top City administrative positions, Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey said at a press conference. “For the first time in a long time, we’re at City Hall able to really put together the budgets of different teams and the resources from different teams in a way that we haven’t been able to do before.”
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
The program will have four elements:
A city-wide storefront improvement program
Matching grants up to $10,000 will help fund seating, signage, lighting, planters and window and door replacements, improvements that will help drive residents and visitors to the neighborhoods, she said. The Redevelopment Agency has a façade program but that’s for historic buildings and this is city-wide.
Guidelines will be on the City’s website on Dec. 1 and the program will begin Jan. 1.
$50,000 investment in the Wall Street area
The $50,000 investment in Wall Street will support benches, planters, lighting and banners to identify the neighborhood, Casey said.
“Again, the objective here is to really create a street that people are inclined to visit,” she said. “We want to bring vitality to the area, we want people to be able to spend time in the area and be able to dine on the sidewalk and be able to make the most of the neighborhood.”
The Wall Street Neighborhood Association has helped identify those needs but other businesses also said the same things, she said.
“We’ve given other neighborhoods some investment, we want to focus on this area as the next up and coming area for Norwalk,” Casey said.
Art installation, free Wi-Fi?
The special initiative management team will plan and implement arts, innovation, and technology-based initiatives, helping to establish free Wi-Fi and plan, implement and install art installations throughout the urban core, Casey said.
“We want to make sure that everyone who is living in Norwalk has an opportunity to access the amenities that they need, and that they have the ability to be present on the street and spend time on the street, whether that be eating or walking from store to store,” Casey said. “So that is what these programs are geared for.”
Big belly trash and recycling compactors
“The fourth program is something that we’ve heard a lot about from not only Wall Street, but also the South Norwalk area, and that is the need for trash receptacles that are a lot more effective and a lot more efficient,” Casey said.
Garbage and trash blows out of the current receptacles but the City will be issuing an RFP (requests for proposals) for 12 big belly compactors, to be installed on Wall Street and Washington Street.
“The FY 20 budget that we pulled together for the first time since July 1, is meant to enhance the community and meant to enhance the community beyond what the small businesses and the residents have already done themselves,” Casey said. “So we recognize that, that all of these programs don’t address everyone’s needs. But we really want to work with the community. These are pilot programs. They’re meant to be revised. They’re meant to be responsive.”
The City is planning an economic development tour and other outreaches to small businesses, she said.
“These are things that have been spoken about over the years since I’ve been on the Council, a lot of different things,” Common Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said. “And I really give credit to just kind of team for bringing together various groups and organizations within city hall to put together this program.”
Casey’s been working on this since she began work 10 months ago, Livingston said.
“I know some people may accuse us of announcing this right before the election, but I know they’ve been in the works for a long time,” Livingston said. “Anything we as a city can do to support small businesses is a big plus, as far as I’m concerned.”
Casey said her outreach to the businesses is in addition to the three years of input into the Plan of Conservation and Development, as everything in the program was cross-referenced with the POCD to make sure it was in alignment.
Rilling said Casey was hired after the reorg formed a new Economic and Community Development Department “because of her expertise, or experience and her background for all the achievements that she’s had in her career.”
A press release explained that the new department “includes Business Development and Tourism, Neighborhood Improvement and Code Enforcement, Planning and Zoning, and Transportation, Mobility, and Parking. These departments coordinate with each other, and other city departments, on funding, resources, and timelines related to projects, initiatives and day-to-day operations, establishing a more effective and efficient local government structure for residents and businesses in Norwalk.”