Economic Downturn Puts Brakes On Many Major Region Projects
Last New Year's Day, the upcoming year seemed to be a time when major development projects, the kind that change the look and feel of a region, were about to get under way.
Nine projects in particular seemed poised to take important steps in 2008, in construction or in permitting.
Ten months later, most are silenced or in limbo.
The Mohegan Sun Casino halted work on its $925 million Project Horizon development. The Fort Trumbull peninsula in New London has seen just a few moments of demolition and no new buildings.
The town of Preston is in the midst of cutting off talks with Northland Investment Corp., its preferred developer for the Norwich Hospital property, after Northland presented a different plan during negotiations than it had publicly presented. Northland blamed the economy for the change.
”Very little will get built in this country in the next 24 months, and that's what they're asking us,” Lawrence Gottesdiender, Northland's chairman, said a day after Preston's Board of Selectmen voted to end exclusive negotiations with Northland.
Gottesdiener's former rival to develop the hospital property, John Hanselman of Preston Gateway Partners LLC, said the biggest impact of the current economic crisis is the credit freeze.
”It is just very difficult in any market in America to raise debt for real estate development projects,” Hanselman said in a phone interview. “And that is kind of a blanket statement that is broadly applied across America.”
Yet, Hanselman said, “There are deals still getting done. They are much more expensive. The cost of funds has increased significantly - so you can finance a deal currently, but the cost of financing those deals has increased dramatically, and what that means is deals that couldn't sustain the increase in cost are not getting done and are falling apart.”
Though the major developments appear stopped for a while, smaller projects are getting built, by developers who depend on local banks still on solid footing.
In New London, the developer of a downtown condominium project known as City Gateway Commons - a project that had stalled in the summer - gained Planning and Zoning Commission approval Thursday to add more condos to the building. The move, said developer Anthony Silvestri, allows him to secure financial backing.
Silvestri is looking for the financial backing of Franklin Enterprises, a major property-management company run by the Tagliatela family of North Haven. The project's $8.6 million construction loan originally came from Dime Bank and appears about to be transferred to New Haven Mortgage Refinance LLC, which is attached to Franklin Enterprises.
”On the development front, we're seeing a mixed bag around the state, depending on the stage of the project,” Joan McDonald, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said during a phone interview Thursday.
McDonald said some developers whose projects are in the planning stages have called the DECD to say they will stay at that phase for a while, while others are still moving forward.
McDonald noted that a tour of southeastern Connecticut a couple of weeks ago attracted about a dozen “site selectors,” or prospective developers, instead of the six or seven expected.
”One of the things we always have to do in a down economy is recognize that it will come up and that we have to continue to make investments so that we're prepared for that upswing when it happens,” McDonald said.
Thursday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced her proposal for a $40 million loan pool, to be formed by contributions from community banks across the state. The loan pool is meant to help creditworthy businesses that cannot otherwise get loans right now.
The following is an update of the projects that seemed to be on the move at the New Year:
Fort Trumbull, New London, and Casino Expansion
n In May, Corcoran Jennison lost its exclusive development rights because it couldn't meet a deadline to secure financing for an $18.7 million rental complex of 66 apartments and 14 townhouses west of the U.S. Coast Guard station in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood.
The nullified agreement doesn't affect Corcoran Jennison's ongoing, $18 million renovation of the nearby former Naval Undersea Warfare Center building into a 90,000-square-foot office building.
n On Sept. 22, the Mohegan Tribal Council voted to delay the final piece of its $925 million Project Horizon development for at least a year. The tribe cited the flagging economy.
The remaining components of the expansion plan - with a budget of about $734 million - include the 39-story Earth Tower, the 1,500-seat House of Blues music hall, the 22,000-square-foot spa and retail and restaurant space, had been scheduled to open in the fall of 2010.
The casino did open its Casino of the Wind on Aug. 29, bringing back poker tables after a five-year hiatus, and is hosting a grand opening this weekend.
n Foxwoods Resort Casino announced Sept. 30 that it would lay off 700 of its 11,000 employees.
Earlier this year, the tribe laid off or offered buyouts to 170 tribal government employees, then followed that with layoffs of about 100 Foxwoods employees.
However, the casino's development plans were not affected this year. The tribe opened the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, its $700 million hotel and casino expansion, in mid-May and hired about 2,000 people to work at the new site.
Lowe's and Target, Pawcatuck
In November 2007, crews began demolishing houses on Route 2 in the Pawcatuck section of Stonington to make way for construction of a Target and a Lowe's, the first two big-box stores in this neighborhood of about 5,500 people.
Across the street, on a 29-acre site that houses the Regal Cinema, another developer is building a new Stop&Shop supermarket, Newport Savings Bank and a Chili's restaurant.
Those projects are still under way. Liberty Crossing, which would house the big-box stores, has been working its way through the town approval process.
The developers of the Pawcatuck Farms project, where Stop&Shop is planned, said in May that the supermarket should be completed in February 2009.
Byron Brook Country Club,
The proposed $200 million project calls for an 18-hole golf course, luxury clubhouse and resort, and 658 luxury condominiums on 349 acres abutting Interstate 395 in Occum.
The project received local approval in spring 2007, but the DEP denied the project an environmental permit.
Days after learning of the DEP rejection, Byron Brook filed final site development plans with the city planning office and a performance bond of $341,950 to cover the first phase of the project.
In September, Long Island developer Donald Monti bought an option on the project, though the current project owners said they were still proceeding. Byron Brook partners Robert Arnone and Joe Manzi said they have been actively pursuing state and federal permits.
Gateway Commons, East Lyme
Two developers are seeking to build a major retail and residential development on 200 acres adjacent to I-95. The project would include a revamped Exit 74, which is near a section of the highway that has been the scene of many accidents.
The project has moved through several permitting stages this year.
The town's Zoning Commission unanimously approved the developers' revised text amendment in March, then approved a master plan for the project in July.
The developers, Konover Properties Corp. of West Hartford and KGI Properties LLC of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, reduced the number of housing units from 400 to 275 and also reduced the buffer between the proposed housing and existing neighborhoods increases.
The commercial aspect - anchor stores and a retail village - remains the same.
The developers will have to get a final approval of their site plan from the Zoning Commission as well as approval from other state and town agencies before construction can begin.
Finally, two other potential developments, a mixed-use project in North Stonington called Milltown Commons and a water park in Ledyard, have been quiet so far this year. Neither has advanced beyond preliminary discussions between developers and town and/or officials. Article UID=423502c6-a20a-4dfa-bcec-83d453a28712
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