Reading the Gossips post about the sloop Eleanor, a reader was reminded of a redevelopment project on the waterfront in Norwalk, Connecticut, and sent me some information about it. Since there may be a lesson here for Hudson and some guidance for conceptualizing the plans for our waterfront, I decided to share the information--along with an opinion or two.
Once upon a time there was an especially blighted section of the Norwalk waterfront. The efforts to revitalize this area, now known as SoNo, began in the mid-1970s with the preservation of historic buildings. Thirty-two buildings were listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Once the historic architecture was secure, the City of Norwalk, working with not-for-profits and the community, started planning for a major attraction to bring visitors and revenue to the area. What they came up with was a maritime center, now known as the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. The center includes an aquarium that features live animals from Long Island Sound, an IMAX theater, and a boat collection. Since the Maritime Aquarium opened in 1988, shops and restaurants have sprung up around it, and it is now the center of a vibrant commercial district. Half a million people visit the Maritime Aquarium every year, and it brings $20.3 million to the city annually.
Now I'm not suggesting that Hudson should imitate Norwalk and build a maritime aquarium like theirs on our waterfront. I've never been there. I don't know that it's like. I don't know much more about it than what's published on their website. I am, however, suggesting that we need to be thinking about something for our waterfront that will be a destination. A restaurant--even a really big one--isn't a destination. Restaurants and shops spring up around a destination. That's what happened in Norwalk. It's what we've seen happen right here in Hudson with all the shops and restaurants that have appeared in the 300 block of Warren Street since the Hudson Opera House opened its doors and became a destination.
I'm suggesting, too, that in conceptualizing a destination for the waterfront we imitate Norwalk by coming up with a plan that respects place, has an educational as well as a recreation/entertainment or cultural purpose, and has as part of its mission the appreciation and/or protection of the Hudson River. And I'm suggesting that the planning not be done by three men in a room but that it involve the community and not-for-profits that could be helpful--Scenic Hudson, perhaps, or maybe the Columbia Land Conservancy, Historic Hudson, the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing Society, the New Netherland Museum. "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood."