New hopes for site

The long, frustrating saga of plans to develop the former Norwich Hospital Property has for the most part revolved around ill-considered projects, unreliable developers, unreasonable demands, unpaid legal bills, inadequate funding and unrealistic expectations - yet for public officials, hope springs eternal.

Mindful of past pitfalls The Day opposed Preston's 2009 decision to acquire from the state the 390-acre property along the Thames River - dormant since the hospital closed in 1996 - in large part because the town would have to ensure a cleanup of the entire site before any new tax-generating enterprise could take place.

This requirement has been a persistent obstacle to development plans, and earlier this week state officials finally approved a long-awaited amendment to the town's original purchase and sales agreement that should make it easier to proceed.

The new agreement allows Preston to sell portions of the property, now known as the Preston Riverwalk site, without either proving to the state that the whole site has been remediated or posting a bond to cover the entire cleanup cost.

"This amendment will empower the Preston Redevelopment Agency to pursue cleanup and development with much greater flexibility and in multiple phases over a multiyear period, which is the only viable path to progress in today's economic climate," state Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, said this week in announcing the agreement with his legislative colleague, state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington.

We applaud such efforts and hope they prove productive.

Officials may learn within a month the benefits of this relaxed agreement when details of a deal being worked out with a potential developer could be announced. The Preston Redevelopment Agency is in negotiations with JHM Financial LLC of Stamford for an undisclosed project on a portion of the property.

We trust that the project would be more practical than some previous pie-in-the-sky past proposals, including Utopia Studios' theme park and studios on the scale of DisneyWorld in Florida, or Northland Investment's luxury resort.

Neither of those concepts made sense years ago and they make even less sense now, given the fragile state of the economy.

The Day eagerly awaits next month's announcement and looks forward to supporting any reasonable plan that will benefit the town, region and state.

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