Norwich revival

Not long ago two Norwich mainstays appeared to be in peril. Could the Marina at American Wharf, an inland port for recreational boaters on the banks of an urban center, survive the passing of its visionary risk taker, Ronald Aliano? And could the Norwichtown Mall, harkening back to a pre-Internet era when small-sized malls thrived in small cities, find a successful 21st century business model?

While it would be premature to answer yes to these questions, there is reason to be optimistic about the prospects of both enterprises thanks to a couple of out-of-state investors who are confident they have winning formulas.

Building a high-end marina along the former industrial banks of the Norwich Harbor, a long trip up the Thames River from Long Island Sound, was always a dicey business proposition. But Mr. Aliano, who had built the successful American Ambulance business, made it work after signing a lease in 1987 to develop the city property.

But Mr. Aliano's death in 2009 cast doubt about the future of this critical asset.

Then along came Gary F. Joyal, a Plymouth, Mass. financial services executive, who paid $750,000 for the marina infrastructure and nearly a year ago assumed the lease to operate it. Mr. Joyal is making good on his promise to renovate and revive the property. Slip rentals are up, a restaurant on the property is open for business and an ice cream shop will soon start serving.

Meanwhile, Winstanley Enterprises of Concord, Mass., which purchased the largely vacant Norwichtown Mall for $15.75 million last July, unveiled its redevelopment plans last week. The new owner will cut space by nearly half, from 300,000 square feet to 168,000. Eliminated will be the interior mall, replaced by a plaza concept, with stores having their own entrances.

The new owners will refashion a former anchor store, now 100,000-square-feet of long-vacant retail space, into two smaller "junior anchor stores." Stop & Shop, the other anchor, will remain, as will Dress Barn.

Norwich faces considerable economic challenges, including trying to revive retail in the downtown, but city leaders could soon be checking the revival of these two critical properties off their to-do list.

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