Norwich City Council OKs talks on proposal for Reid & Hughes

Norwich - The City Council agreed unanimously Monday to start negotiations with Fairfield-based Becker and Becker Associates for a proposed $7.1 million renovation of the Reid & Hughes Building on Main Street, but might seek assistance from a national nonprofit development firm in negotiating an agreement with the company.

Becker and Becker's proposal 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 Becker's Wauregan Hotel affordable housing renovation project across Main Street. But that project has yet to generate city property taxes.

Mayor Peter Nystrom, a critic from the start of the Becker and Becker proposal, said he still does not support the project. But the mayor agreed to start negotiations and agreed that the city should seek expert assistance with the negotiations.

Prior to voting on the Reid & Hughes study committee's recommendation to name Becker and Becker as preferred developer, Norwich Community Development Corp. Executive Director Robert Mills suggested the city get outside help with the negotiations.

Mills recommended the city hire National Development Council at a proposed price of $75,000 per year to review the Reid & Hughes project and at least one other major development proposal in Norwich. He said the cost could be shared by the city, NCDC and the developers - who would benefit from the firm's ability to identify "creative" funding sources for large projects.

Mills said Onekey LLC, the developer of a proposed $60 million project to build 300 apartments at the historic Ponemah Mill in Taftville, has agreed to contribute $40,000 toward the contract with the National Development Council.

James Quarto, chairman of the Reid & Hughes committee, urged the council to act, because the building is in dire need of repairs. It has been vacant for decades and off the tax rolls for at least 25 years.

The committee estimated it would cost $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.

c.bessette@theday.com

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