Fairfield County can become a tourist destination, and Ridgefield has a role to play in turning that dream into a reality.
That was the takeaway from a recent Economic and Community Development Commission discussion where developing a marketing strategy with other neighboring towns — and possibly cities — seemed to have its proponents.
“Everyone says Connecticut is in the dumps but Fairfield’s doing great — Fairfield County’s doing great,” said Geoff Morris of the Ridgefield Economic and Community Development Commission.
Morris referenced cities in the lower part of the county — specifically, Fairfield, Westport, Greenwich, Norwalk, and Stamford — that are working to regionalize some city services, including marketing costs.
It’s a plan Ridgefield wants in on — possibly by partnering with Danbury, its largest economic neighbor.
“This group of five is pushing to have Fairfield County become this economic entity that can apply for federal grants,” Morris said at the Feb. 4 ECDC meeting. “It’s something we should think about getting into.”
The “group of five” that Morris highlighted plans to combine services, like 911 call centers, waste management, and recycling.
Similar regional sharing has been proposed in the past through the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG). First Selectman Rudy Marconi is the vice chairman of that organization of 10 towns.
ECDC Chairman Arnold Light noted Marconi has championed consolidating services, like police and fire departments, in the past.
But consolidating town and city services also raises the spectre of school regionalization, a topic that has proven to be something of a political hot potato. Two bills are currently being discussed in the state legislature that would consolidate school districts, one by the school population — which likely wouldn’t affect Ridgefield — the other by town population.
Both bills have drawn concern from Ridgefielders, and opposition from state legislators on both sides of the aisle, something the members of the ECDC discussed Feb. 4.
Ridgefield will also have to show it has something to bring to the table for its southern neighbors.
“We need to come up with a case why we’re not just tagalongs,” said Morris.
“I think it would be wise to try to ally with Danbury,” said ECDC member Gus Ryer. “It’s our biggest neighbor, they’re the biggest northern Fairfield County city, and they’ve got a pretty heavyweight punch.”
Morris pointed to Ridgefield’s arts venues as a selling point.
“What did the Connecticut Post say? ‘Cosmopolitan culture in a country setting?’” said ECDC member Amanda Duff.
“It would make Fairfield County an economic destination that could apply for grants,” said Morris.
He said he would reach out to the head of the Fairfield Economic Development Commission.
It’s also unclear how much partnering with the five southern cities would actually benefit Ridgefield, since those communities are bound together by I-95.
“From a data standpoint, those cities and towns that you talked about? Their people don’t come this way,” said ECDC Vice Chairman John Devine. “They have trains that take them north and south, we draw from North Salem, South Salem, Pound Ridge, Danbury, Brewster, Katonah, New Milford. We’re the cultural mecca for those people…
“… if you’re anywhere up and down I-95, you’ve got a lot of options,” he added. “You do get some, but even the Playhouse doesn’t sell a lot of tickets out there.”