New London - Kristin Havrilla Clarke hates to hear anyone say there's no parking downtown.
"How many times have we heard people say, 'I couldn't find parking on Bank Street, so I went to the mall,'" said Clarke, the city's director of development and planning.
Slowing the traffic on Eugene O'Neill Drive, installing signs and redesigning the municipal parking lots could help to keep downtown active and vibrant.
"Let's be honest, we're from here and those parking lots can be confusing,'' she said. "We need to create a more welcoming space."
The development office, with a nod from the City Council, has applied for a $500,000 Main Street Investment Fund grant that would be used to fund improvements to the municipal lots and along Eugene O'Neill Drive/Green Street from State Street to Tilley Street. Eugene O'Neill becomes Green Street at the intersection with Pearl Street.
The project, if approved by the state Office of Policy and Management, would include traffic calming measures, decorative lighting, enhanced pedestrian connections, landscaping and fencing.
The city also is considering changing the traffic flow so that Eugene O'Neill Drive becomes a two-way street, but such a proposal would require extensive review by the state.
Clarke said she hopes to learn within the next few months whether New London will receive the grant. Work would begin in the spring.
Clarke's office has put together a conceptual plan for the area, which includes improving walkways through the municipal lots, which run along the back of Bank Street businesses.
"We looking at a lot of things people have talked about but never put into a drawing,'' Clarke said. "We're looking at why those lots are so difficult to park in."
Many people say they don't patronize downtown businesses because there's no parking, she said, yet more than 200-space lots are just yards away.
The plan includes an artists' walkway, which could feature public artwork, and a designated area for outdoor entertainment and events such as a farmers market. Clarke said she would also like to see better use of some of the alleys that provide access to Bank Street.
Some of the money could also be used for façade improvements to the back of the Bank Street buildings that face the parking lots, she added.
For New London Landmarks, which is already working on a project looking into secondary uses of downtown buildings, improving and expanding the parking lot would help the vitality of downtown.
"We're very excited about the project,'' said Sandra Kersten Chalk, executive director of Landmarks. "We think it would do so much for the city."