Fort Trumbull developer says funding in place, ready to build

New London - The developer who wants to build rental housing in Fort Trumbull announced Thursday that he has financing in place to build 34 units, expects to close on the property by May 17 and break ground three days later.

"After more than two years, we're getting closer,'' Robert Stillman, an owner of Riverbank Construction, said following the Renaissance City Development Association's annual meeting at Harris Place on State Street.

Riverbank has plans to build 103 units on land that was once the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. The project is adjacent to more than a dozen properties whose owners fought a losing battle with the city over eminent domain in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Stillman, who has been working on the project for nearly three years, said he has secured financing from M&T Bank, headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y., for the first phase of the roughly $24 million Village on the Thames project. Construction on the 7-acre parcel, which the city is giving to Stillman, should take a year or less, he said. When the first 34 units are occupied, he said, they will start on the next phase.

Groundbreaking for the first 34 units on East and Bowditch streets is scheduled for May 20.

"I know there's been some frustration that this hasn't got off the ground sooner,'' Stillman said. "But the reason is we want to do something special. ... Our only desire has been to make it a beautiful and worthy project."

On Tuesday, Riverbank applied to the city for $83,000 in building permits.

Stillman said there are more than 700 design drawings for the project, and much of it will be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design specifications. LEED is a federal program that provides information for construction of energy-friendly, environmentally conscious buildings.

"This project will change the identity of the fort,'' said Michael Joplin, who on Thursday was re-elected president of the RCDA, the former New London Development Corp.

More than a dozen years ago, the NLDC proposed, and the city approved, a development plan for the 90-acre Fort Trumbull area, which included the closed NUWC property. The plan was to raze nearly all the buildings in the Fort Trumbull peninsula and replace them with a hotel, restaurant, conference center, bioscience office park and new housing.

But the legal battle over the city's right to take the property by eminent domain for future economic development stalled the project for years. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that the city was justified in taking the property. But the initial developers for the project pulled out, the Great Recession hit and the project stalled.

In 2009, Riverbank was named the chosen developer for about 7 acres on the peninsula. The city also has granted Riverbank tax abatements for the project under the 2011 City and Town Development Act. The act provides distressed municipalities with broad powers to encourage economic development, including offering tax breaks, issuing notes and bonds, and delegating powers to development agencies.

Last year, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio apologized to the property owners for the eminent domain takings and the NLDC changed its name to the Renaissance City Development Association.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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