Norwich – After hundreds of attendees and volunteers headed home from one of the city’s many festivals, Suki Lagrito, Global City Norwich’s only staff member, had to pack everything up.
In her role as liaison for Global City Norwich, Lagrito has raised support for festivals celebrating ethnic heritage and run business education programs for entrepreneurs.
But when the festive music stopped and tents were folded, Lagrito was often alone to coil up power cords, collect sawhorse barricades, stow sandbags anchoring tents, and clear debris.
On September 30, Lagrito, 41, a Canadian-Filipino immigrant, will leave the program she created to take a break and focus on her own entrepreneurial business on Main Street. She will be visiting her family in Vancouver, British Columbia for the first time as the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Lagrito’s resignation was announced at Thursday’s Norwich Community Development Corp board meeting. The grant-funded Global City Norwich operates under the umbrella of the NCDC economic development agency.
NCDC President Kevin Brown said Global City Norwich will be “on pause” for 90 to 180 days to reassess the program and decide on future efforts.
Brown witnessed and helped Lagrito with post-festival duties after Monday’s Diversity Festival at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park, loading her car with festival hardware to drive to the storage bin.
“If you just keep that image, with all this activity ending in a dusty pod,” Brown told the board on Thursday, “get and understand that it’s time for a break for Global City Norwich. It will go into hibernation and we will reevaluate all the marketing that Suki has done. We’re going to look at that and see if we should do it the same way next year, or if we can do something more next year. Or whether we should stop doing it altogether.”
Lagrito spoke about her plans at her store later Thursday and said she will keep working to improve downtown. She and her partner Peter Helms run streetwear shop The Main Plug at 235 Main St. at the downtown roundabout.
Lagrito said she will be spending more time in the shop, making her own artwork and volunteering with the Norwich Street Art Collective. The group is planning a 14-day mural festival next summer. She’s excited about the new NorWitch Halloween strut on October 29 and said local artists will be hosting a Spooky Art Show on October 7, decorating downtown windows with art that will stay on through October.
“After four years there were highlights and also areas that needed improvement,” said Lagrito of Global City Norwich. “Look around here. The whole goal is to help revitalize downtown. We are far from the turning point. Its a lot to do.”
Global City Norwich was launched in April 2018 with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Chelsea Groton Bank Foundation. Michael Rauh, the bank’s President and CEO, said at the opening the goal is to generate enthusiasm for downtown revitalization by embracing the city’s diversity and creating jobs by helping entrepreneurs fill vacant storefronts.
The Bank Foundation has awarded Global City Norwich $400,000 over five years. Norwich City Council approved $150,000 over three years from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act grant and the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation provided $40,000 to help refurbish a storefront for new businesses.
Rauh praised Lagrito Thursday, calling her “a force of nature” for her dedication to the program’s success.
“Suki is probably as responsible as anyone for how well the Global City Norwich program has performed over the years,” Rauh said. “She really was the face, arms, legs, feet on the ground to make it happen.”
Rauh said the foundation remains committed to the program. Foundation officials meet monthly with NCDC to discuss the program and future plans.
“Thank goodness for the Chelsea Groton Foundation,” Lagrito said.
She went further into the story and thanked the founders of the 1854 community bank for their vision. Lagrito expressed the same sentiment for the founders of Norwich Free Academy, who also donated their own money in 1854 to create a quality academy for local youth.
Lagrito and her daughter Aviana Lozano moved to Norwich from Waterford in 2014 when the then eighth-grader wanted to attend the NFA.
“These are people who really believe in putting their money where their mouth is, making a difference and creating change in the community,” Lagrito said of the bank and school.