New London groups aim to make murals a reality
By Scott Bellile
A new citizen group seeks New London residents’ ideas to improve downtown riverfront facades after an effort to beautify the buildings last year failed.
City officials are pressed to fix up the backs of buildings on North Water Street along the north bank of the Wolf River. Mayor Gary Henke said the former Wolf River Lumber property for sale along the south bank of the river won’t attract buyers until the facades along the north bank are spruced up.
Members of two local groups, Forward New London and Connect Communities, will hold a free pizza dinner at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, at Jolly Roger’s Pizzeria. The groups will present options to beautify the downtown, get the public’s suggestions and enlist anyone interested in helping. All community members are invited, not just downtown business owners.
Last summer, New London’s city council allocated $20,560 in Downtown/Economic Development funds for phase one of a three-phase mural project. The plan, headed by citizen group Connect Communities, was to paint the backs of Water Street buildings one uniform color and then install murals painted by Wisconsin artist Kelly Meredith.
Connect Communities solicited signatures from the three building owners impacted by phase one. Due to disagreements between Connect Communities and the building owners, one owner signed.
“Their ideas were great,” Henke said about Connect Communities at an economic development meeting on Jan. 26. “They came up with a lot of good ideas and what they wanted to work on, and so forth. It was just it didn’t work out for the people involved, which is unfortunate.”
The money from phase one is still available. At a community meeting regarding downtown beautification April 21, Henke proposed trying again under the leadership of Rita Thiel, who led Forward New London.
Forward New London’s additions to the community include the Wolf River Marketplace, two locally painted murals on Pearl Street buildings, trashcans attached to downtown streetlights and flower baskets downtown.
Thiel said Forward New London ran out of projects several years ago and lost its steam. She’s offered to head the next beautification effort. Connect Communities could merge with Forward New London or a new group may form.
Kelly Rickert, Connect Communities member and owner of Water Street Vintage, said she would still like to see a professional artist paint the murals. Although local artists did the Pearl Street murals, she said the name recognition a professional artist brings could make New London a tourist town, Rickert said.
“For a city that has two rivers to utilize, it’s not really being utilized,” Rickert said. “We could have a really cute, charming downtown with lots of nice shops and restaurants.”
She offered the side wall of her business, Water Street Vintage, to hang an example mural if that’s what it takes to get riverside reluctant building owners along the river on board.
The city is also waiting to learn if it will receive a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to replace a cracked river wall next year. The wall is located in front of St. John’s Park, between Bult’s Quality Bake Shop and The Quilting Connection.
If the city lands the grant, it would be able to afford a new pier along the north bank of the Wolf River. That would create more foot traffic along the river and another incentive to improve the riverfront.
Henke said while city administration can offer money and advice for the beautification effort, he would like community members to take the helm on this effort as Forward New London did in the past.
“Years and years ago, a lot of the direction for downtown came out of city hall, which was pretty well resented,” Henke said. “And I think we would be received the same here … I want it to come from the people in the community.”