Public needs facts about Fort Trumbull

New London's painfully protracted and often bitterly contentious attempts to revitalize the old Fort Trumbull neighborhood has for the past decade produced little but wholesale demolition, repeated disappointment, frustration, broken promises and, most infamously, litigation culminating in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that continues to provoke anger in many circles.

That's why this newspaper is especially concerned that proposed developers of the most recent project, a 34-unit apartment complex, are proceeding without full disclosure of their financing, and also remain under the purview of an organization with a shabby track record.

Though developers of the Village on the Thames project insist ground will be broken May 20, they have declined to provide details on how they will pay for it.

Irwin and Robert Stillman, the father-and-son development team from Fairfield County and New York City, initially planned to attract institutional investors, but then last week said they had the backing of a bank in Buffalo, N.Y.

Neither they nor city officials would or could offer any supporting documents.

What's more, that disclosure was made last week during the annual meeting of the New London Development Corp., the community-based, not-for-profit organization responsible for overseeing the city's interest in the property.

During that meeting, the group re-elected Michael Joplin its president - except, technically, the NLDC no longer exists, having been renamed the Renaissance City Development Association.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who ordered the renaming after having campaigned on a pledge to abolish the NLDC, said Monday he is willing to hold off on his efforts to dissolve the organization and push Mr. Joplin out until after the Village on the Thames project gets underway. Mayor Finizio also said he, too, is anxious to learn more details about the financing but does not have access to that information.

"If I had that report I would release it," he said.

Mr. Finizio expressed confidence that the developers will follow through with construction not only of the initial 34-unit apartment complex, but also of a larger project originally designed to include 102 townhouse units, commercial buildings and a marina.

"It's a great project and the Stillmans will follow it through to completion," the mayor vowed, noting that additional hiring by Electric Boat at the former Pfizer research building next door will help spur increased demand for housing in New London.

Mayor Finizio acknowledged some people are rooting against the project because they remain bitter about a lawsuit filed by Fort Trumbull residents challenging New London's right to seize their properties using eminent domain.

The mayor said that he, too, was so outraged by the high court's ruling against the residents that he almost decided against moving to New London a few years ago.

"But I have to say, we have an opportunity to turn a corner," Mayor Finizio said of the Village on the Thames project.

This newspaper would like to share his confidence, but after so many false starts at Fort Trumbull we won't make any predictions about failures or successes there.

At last week's meeting of the old NLDC, we also were troubled that Mr. Joplin, a polarizing figure, will remain at the helm.

Mr. Joplin has presided over an organization that bulldozed a neighborhood but then failed to revitalize it. He has done nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership.

We still believe New London and the land where the old neighborhood stood have much to offer, and will continue to advocate for worthwhile redevelopment efforts.

But attracting such growth requires inspired, creative leadership capable of responsible oversight - and above all, full disclosure.

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