Plans for Reid & Hughes Building in Norwich considered

Norwich - The Reid & Hughes Building study committee on Wednesday reviewed the lone proposal the group received last week and plans to seek some clarification from developer Becker and Becker Associates regarding the firm's $7.1 million plan to renovate the long vacant building.

The Fairfield firm completed a $20 million renovation of the historic Wauregan Hotel across Main Street from the Reid & Hughes. Now the firm is proposing converting the former department store into 21 apartments and 8,500 square feet of commercial space.

The plan calls for Becker and Becker to receive an $800,000 grant from the city, plus another $100,000 in a building code improvement funds through the city's downtown revitalization grant. The company proposed contributing $200,000 to the project and obtaining $5.9 million in state and federal grants, including historic restoration tax credits.

Members of the committee questioned some aspects of the project's finances. Financial commitments could be subject to negotiations, Chairman James Quarto said. For example, Becker proposed making payments in lieu of taxes based on the project's profits - similar to the Wauregan apartments, which have yet to make a profit.

"Is that acceptable?" Quarto said. "Would the city go for it?"

Another financial question is whether Becker and Becker could receive a total of $900,000 in city money when the charter limits City Council's bonding authority for one project to $800,000. Beyond that, voters must approve the bonding in a referendum. The $100,000 building code improvement money was bond money approved by voters in 2010 as part of a $3.38 million downtown revitalization program.

Mayor Peter Nystrom, who did not attend Wednesday's meeting, said last week that he would not support a project that was not taxable, saying the priority is to build the downtown tax base.

Some of the 21 apartments in the Reid & Hughes would be smaller than currently allowed, so the plan would need zoning variances. Committee member and Alderwoman Sofee Noblick called the proposed time schedule in the project "probably pretty aggressive."

The schedule calls for Becker and Becker to have an approved development agreement with the city by July 31, and for the city and developer to "collaborate" to request state Urban Act grant funds.

The committee hopes to get clarification from the firm and set up a meeting with company President Bruce Becker to review the plan before presenting it to the City Council.

Director of Inspections James Troeger, staff assistant to the committee, said the developer would have to make a very good "sales pitch" to gain widespread support for the proposal given the $7.1 million price tag.

Quarto also suggested meeting with Nystrom, who by charter is the head of economic development, after receiving the clarifications to try to gain his support for the project.

c.bessette@theday.com

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