Latest talks on Norwich Hospital property ended

Preston — The Preston Redevelopment Agency has called off negotiations with the Stamford firm that had proposed building renewable energy infrastructure throughout the Norwich Hospital property. The agency instead will start marketing portions of the property through one or more brokerage firms.

Chairman Sean Nugent said Friday that the PRA voted unanimously to halt negotiations with JHM Financial LLC of Stamford and also to halt the current request for proposals process that governed the negotiations.

Several firms have contacted PRA officials over the past several months expressing interest in the property, Nugent and First Selectman Robert Congdon said Friday, and those ideas now can be pursued. Town officials were precluded from negotiating with other firms under the RFP process.

Preston initially received three development proposals last fall. Triple L Holdings withdrew its hotel plan soon after submitting it, and talks with Commercial Development Co. Inc. ended in November when the two parties could not reach an agreement.

Separately, the PRA has been in negotiations with the Boston-based real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle — which helped write the RFP and design a proposed layout of the 390-acre hospital property — on a brokerage agreement that would call for the firm to market the property.

JHM's plan was never made public. Nugent said Friday the firm had proposed a series of renewable energy facilities throughout the property, including solar, biomass, wind and fuel-cell energy-generating facilities. In future phases of development, the firm proposed bringing mixed-use development to the property.

In a press release issued Friday on ending negotiations, Nugent described the JHM plans as "their idea of linking the construction of a renewable energy infrastructure together with a state-of-the-art; energy efficient, sustainable, mixed-use development aligned with the Town's long-term development plans."

JHM officials could not be reached to comment Friday.

Nugent said it's possible the town could work with more than one brokerage firm to market the former hospital property. State officials recently approved a plan to allow the town to break up the property and sell portions without needing to clean the entire 390 acres.

Selectmen Timothy Bowles and Michael Sinko expressed disappointment that the negotiations with JHM could not come to fruition. Bowles has been advocating renewable energy facilities at Norwich Hospital all along and made it part of his unsuccessful attempt to run for first selectman last fall.

"I'm very excited about the plans that JHM had proposed," Bowles said. "It was consistent with some of the things I had suggested. I respect the PRA's process. Despite the fact that they couldn't come to an agreement, they did try."

Both Sinko and Bowles also agreed with the brokerage marketing concept, especially given the current slow economy and the new agreement with the state allowing the town to market portions of the property.

"It's unfortunate, but it's time to move on," Sinko said. "I think changing the tactics is probably the right thing to do now that we have the ability to break up the land. The PRA has been contacted by other firms and it's time to reach out to them."

Nugent and Congdon would not discuss specifics of why the JHM negotiations fell through, but Nugent said it was a mutual agreement between the parties to end negotiations. "We've been working through negotiations with them over the past several months and could not reach mutually agreeable terms," he said.

"In my opinion, it clearly was not in the best interest of the town of Preston to move forward," said Congdon, an ex-officio member of the agency who had participated in some of the negotiations. "JHM had some very interesting concepts, That's the reason they worked so hard to try and come to mutually agreeable terms."

Congdon said JHM would be invited to submit another plan through the new brokerage marketing by the town.

Nugent said he plans to explain the decision and the future marketing plan to residents at a town meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 28 at the Preston Veterans Memorial School.

c.bessette@theday.com

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