Published May 18. 2012 4:00AM
Norwich - The Reid & Hughes development committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that the city negotiate a preferred development agreement with Fairfield-based Becker and Becker Associates, the only firm that bid for the long-vacant Main Street building.
Committee members strongly support the proposal but spent most of Thursday's meeting discussing how to garner support for a project that is expected to face strong opposition. The committee will make its recommendation to the council at the June 18 meeting and also plan to ask supporters to come and speak during the public comment section of the meeting.
Becker and Becker submitted a $7.1 million development proposal that calls for creating 21 low- and moderate-income housing apartments and commercial space on the main floor. But the plan's financing proposal would require an $800,000 grant from the city, plus $100,000 grant from the downtown revitalization program along with a waiver of building permit fees and sewer connection fees.
Becker also wants to structure the property taxes as a portion of the building's future income - as was done with the Wauregan Hotel affordable housing renovation project across Main Street. But that project has yet to generate city property taxes under that structure.
Mayor Peter Nystrom has said repeatedly he would not support a development at the Reid & Hughes that didn't add to the downtown tax base.
Committee members said they know it's important to gain the mayor's support, possibly including inviting Nystrom to visit successful Becker and Becker projects in New Haven. Committee member Richard Caron said company President Bruce Becker should be the one to make his pitch to the mayor and other council members on how the project could benefit downtown, perhaps at a council informational meeting.
Nystrom could not be reached to comment Thursday night.
A counter-argument, committee member Andrew Zeeman said, is that the city would otherwise have to pay an estimated $500,000 or more just to tear down the former department store and end up with a small vacant space with little chance to develop anything there in the future.
Alderman H. Tucker Braddock said he thought it would cost closer to $1 million to demolish the building because demolition would include securing two adjacent buildings that have common walls, disrupting traffic on Main Street and filling the foundation hole.
"I see it as a million dollars to save it and a million dollars to tear it down," Braddock said.