CT's first 'cultural district' approved for Ridgefield

The Connecticut Office of the Arts announced Wednesday that it has approved Ridgefield's bid to become the first municipality in the state to have a designated "cultural district."

The Connecticut Office of the Arts announced Wednesday that it has approved Ridgefield’s bid to become the first municipality in the state to have a designated “cultural district.”

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — The Connecticut Office of the Arts announced Wednesday that it has approved the town’s bid to become the first municipality in the state to have a designated “cultural district.”

The news follows nearly two years of meetings, public hearings and presentations to gain the designation, all of which were slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COA defines a cultural district as a walkable area of a city or town that features numerous cultural facilities, activities and/or assets, according to a release.

Former state representative John Frey proposed the initial law to allow designation of cultural districts in October 2019. On behalf of Ridgefield’s Economic & Community Development Commission (ECDC), its secretary, Glori Norwitt, began organizing the materials to apply.

Ridgefield’s cultural district comprises downtown Main Street and surrounding areas. It stretches from the Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center in the south through Ballard Park and the Ridgefield Library in the north, and a half mile east to the Ridgefield Theater Barn and Guild of Artists, the release read.

The area houses numerous cultural attractions, including the RPAC Art Center and Academy, the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, The Prospector Theater, the historical Scott House, ACT of CT and The Ridgefield Playhouse.

“The people of Ridgefield have long appreciated the abundance of arts and culture in our town,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said in a statement. “We are thrilled that the state also recognizes all that Ridgefield has to offer by giving us the first cultural district designation.”

The area will be marketed by the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, which includes the COA, to promote tourism in town. Ridgefield must also establish a Cultural District Commission to manage all aspects of the area as a requirement of the program.

In a release from the ECDC, board members said the designation will add value to both the town and the region, and encourage visitors to stay and patronize for a weekend as opposed to one day.

Benefits of cultural districts

According to the Connecticut Office of the Arts, cultural districts:

Promote and encourage artists, entrepreneurs and creative businesses.

Promote tourism and increase visitation.

Improve the quality of life for residents.

Strengthen distinctive character of communities.

Drive economic growth and expand the tax base.

Highlight local culture and history.

Norwitt said the designation “not only spotlights how many exceptional cultural wonders we have in our town, but also highlights the teamwork of the arts & culture ... organizations that worked together to submit the application.”

The commission plans to place signs on the north and south sides of Main Street to indicate where the cultural district begins.

“It’s like the ‘Good Housekeeping’ seal of approval,” ECDC Chairman Geoffrey Morris said. “It’s a significant accomplishment for the town.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com