Merger could focus efforts to save Reid & Hughes Building in Norwich

Norwich - The ad hoc Norwich Landmarks historic preservation group will merge with the long-established Norwich Heritage Trust nonprofit group in a move that would give the new effort to save the Reid & Hughes Building on Main Street nonprofit status and a small bank account.

About a dozen people gathered Monday at Otis Library to discuss reviving Norwich Landmarks - a group that fought successfully some 10 years ago to save the Wauregan Hotel from possible demolition.

The new effort comes as talks have stalled between the city and Becker and Becker Associates, the lone developer who submitted a development proposal for the Reid & Hughes building. Mayor Peter Nystrom said last week he has asked for engineering estimates to shore up the long-vacant 1881 department store and also an estimate to demolish the building.

Dale Plummer, who headed the Wauregan effort as a private citizen rather than as city historian, was nominated as president of the newly merged group Monday. Joe Brown was nominated as vice president, Richard Caron as treasurer and Greg Grippo as secretary.

The officer positions for the moment remain in the hands of the nearly defunct Norwich Heritage Trust. William Champagne, current trust president, said the group has maintained its nonprofit status with the state and even has about $2,000 in the bank. But the current trust board has not been active and wants to step aside. That board will meet and vote in the Norwich Landmarks officer slate within the next two weeks, Champagne said.

The next Norwich Landmarks meeting is planned for March 11 at 6 p.m. at Otis Library. The group will review the Norwich Heritage Trust's bylaws and policies and might vote on changes to update the documents.

The group also will put out a call for new members and potential future officers.

The group hopes to approach the City Council with a request for a small amount of money - matched with the trust's funds - to clean debris and water-logged carpeting from the building to allow engineers to get a better assessment of the structure. Norwich Landmarks did a similar cleanup and wall removal in the then-decaying Wauregan Hotel a dozen years ago.

Addressing concerns that the city might not allow volunteers into the condemned Reid & Hughes, Plummer said: "They let us into the Wauregan, and it was in much worst shape than the Reid & Hughes."

The group plans to invite city fire marshals to the March 11 meeting to discuss the possibility of getting into the building for a cleanup.

Plummer said the revived group will start by focusing on the Reid & Hughes, but Plummer said there are other historic buildings throughout Norwich that also need attention.

"The Reid & Hughes is the biggest challenge right now," Plummer said. "It's a big building and very significant in the streetscape downtown."

c.bessette@theday.com

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