NEW LONDON -- Long known as the "city on the pond," New London's business district, and the people who shop there, have limited contact with the Mill Pond and the meandering river that slides by on the backside of Main Street businesses.
The city is "all about the water," yet it has no physical connection with the water, said landscape architect Adam Arvidson.
"Everybody loves the bridge and the city-on-a-pond feel," he said. But that "disappears when you get downtown."
Arvidson is in the process of drawing up a downtown master plan that would reconnect the town, and shoppers, with the surrounding water.
He hopes the plan would give New London a sharper identity that could enhance future economic growth.
"Fabulous ideas," said City Clerk Trudie Guptill, when discussing the preliminary proposal Avidson has developed.
The public got its first look at the draft plan recently and gave Arvidson some ideas to incorporate into the downtown master plan.
After a second viewing of the proposal later this year, the New London City Council is expected to take action on the plan early in 2010.
Some of the items on the wish list are "pipe dreams," said Guptill, but many of the ideas are workable and residents seem "rearing to go" to implement them.
The city hired Arvidson with the help of a Connected Communities Partnership grant from the Southwest Initiative Foundation.
Having a written plan in place could make it easier for the city to get additional grants to implement ideas, Guptill said.
Most rural towns are organized in straight lines around railroad tracks, Arvidson. said New London is different because of the way it "interfaces with all the water around."
The town's proximity to the natural environment is an asset Arvidson hopes to elevate by creating new public spaces that will link the downtown area to the water.
The timing is perfect, he said, because the current dam on the Mill Pond is scheduled to be replaced next year. The old fish hatchery that had been located next to the dam was razed several years, leaving an open space where Arvidson is proposing to create "Old Mill Plaza" that will lead to a riverside trail.
A more "urbanized riverfront" could give people access to the stream, new "pocket parks" and the back doors of Main Street stores.
"We need to rethink that entire area," said Arvidson, who has also drawn a walking trail around the Mill Pond and ideas for expanding access to the town's popular art district.
Arvidson said the city could time proposed changes to intersections for the same time the Minnesota Department of Transportation is planning to redo state Highway 9, which includes Main Street.
Bumping out the curbs at intersections will shorten the distance for pedestrians to walk across the highway and give motorists the impression the street is narrower, resulting in slower speeds and safer movement through town, he said.
The plan includes ideas for developing private property as well as public land. The draft plan suggests turning the former McBroom Construction building -- which sits on a strip of land that juts into the Mill Pond by the dam -- into a café with kayak and bike rentals, said Guptill.
Arvidson is also proposing changes to the city's parking lot that would make it less confusing for guests though it would reduce the number of parking spaces.
Once the plan is finished, Arvidson said it will be "up to the City Council and city staff to prioritize what they want to tackle" in the long-range plan. Some projects could be accomplished in a year or two and others 20 years from now, depending on the availability of funding. Funding may include grants and the state's new sales tax that can be used for parks and trails.
Arvidson said there's no reason why small towns shouldn't have a good design just like big cities.