Norwich ― After hundreds of attendees and volunteers have gone home after any of the many downtown festivals, left was Suki Lagrito, the sole staff person at Global City Norwich, to pack it all up.
In her role as liaison for Global City Norwich, Lagrito has rallied support for festivals that celebrated ethnic heritages and ran business education programs for entrepreneurs.
But when festive music died down and tents folded up, Lagrito often found herself alone to roll up electrical cords, gather sawhorse barricades, stow away sandbags that anchored tents and clean up debris.
On Sept. 30, Lagrito, 41, a Canadian-Filipino immigrant, will leave the program she shaped to give herself a break and focus on her own entrepreneurial business on Main Street. She will visit her family in Vancouver, British Columbia for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Lagrito’s resignation was announced at the Norwich Community Development Corp Board of Directors meeting Thursday. Grant-funded Global City Norwich operates under the NCDC economic development agency umbrella.
NCDC President Kevin Brown said Global City Norwich “will be put on pause” for 90 to 180 days to reassess the program and decide future endeavors.
Brown witnessed and pitched in to help Lagrito with post-festival chores after Monday’s Diversity Festival at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park, loading her car with festival hardware to head to the storage pod.
“If you just keep that visual, with all that activity ending with a dusty floor,” Brown told the board Thursday, “you get and understand it’s time for a pause for Global City Norwich. It’s going to go into hibernation, and all that marketing that Suki’s been doing, we’re going to reassess. We’re going to take a look at it, and see if that’s exactly how we should do it again next year, or if there’s something more that we can do next year. Or if we should stop doing it altogether.”
Discussing her plans at her business later Thursday, Lagrito said she will continue to work to improve downtown. She and partner Peter Helms run the streetwear shop, The Main Plug at 235 Main St. at the downtown roundabout.
Lagrito said she will spend more time at the business, doing her own artwork and volunteering with the Norwich Street Art Collective. The group plans a 14-day mural festival next summer. She is excited about the new NorWitch Halloween Strut Oct. 29, and said local artists will host a Spooky Art Show Oct. 7, dressing downtown windows with art that will remain through October.
“After four years, there have been highlights and also areas that need to be improved on,” Lagrito said of Global City Norwich. “Look around here. The whole goal is to help with the revitalization of downtown. We’re nowhere near the tipping point. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Global City Norwich was launched in April 2018 with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Chelsea Groton Bank Foundation.-Bank President and CEO Michael Rauh said at the launch the goal was to spark excitement in downtown revitalization by embracing the city’s diversity and create jobs by helping entrepreneurs fill vacant storefronts.
The bank foundation has awarded $400,000 in five years to Global City Norwich. The 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 renovate a storefront for new businesses.
Rauh on Thursday praised Lagrito and called her “a force of nature” for her dedication to making the program successful.
“Suki is probably as responsible as anybody for how well the Global City Norwich program has done over the years,” Rauh said. “She has really been the face, the arms the legs, the feet on the ground for making 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 God for the Chelsea Groton Foundation,” Lagrito said.
She went further into history and thanked the 1854 founders of the community bank for their vision. Lagrito expressed the same sentiment for the founders of Norwich Free Academy, also in 1854, for donating their own money to create a high 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 NFA.
“It’s people who really believe in putting their money where their mouth is and making things happen, and making change happen in the community,” Lagrito said about the bank and the school.