Problem downtown properties on Norwich City Council's agenda

Norwich - The City Council will consider two troublesome downtown properties on Monday, with one resolution to seek new development proposals for the former Reid & Hughes building on Main Street and a second to find a Chestnut Street developer in default of his agreement with the city.

The city received only one bid for the former Reid & Hughes building last year, but city officials found the $7.1 million heavily subsidized proposal by Becker and Becker Associates to be "too one-sided," as Mayor Peter Nystrom called it.

The plan sought nearly $1 million in city grants and would have kept the building off the tax rolls until the completed development turned a profit in the future. Nystrom and Alderwoman Sofee Noblick co-sponsored a resolution that will ask the council on Monday to reject Becker's proposal officially.

The resolution would authorize city officials to put out a new request for proposals with some form of city subsidy. The resolution "finds that it would be in the best interest to the City of Norwich to consider committing a sum of money to the development of or demolition, with or without façade preservation but with subsequent reuse, of the Reid & Hughes building property."

City Manager Alan Bergren said the wording is designed to be flexible and allow for competing proposals. If the council approves seeking a new RFP, Bergren would be asked to present a draft of the advertisement by the June 17 City Council meeting.

Nystrom said city assistance would start with the $3.38 million downtown revitalization bonds voters approved in 2010.

"We're not taking city assistance off the table, but that could also mean the downtown bond programs," Nystrom said. "My first discussion with a developer is to look at the downtown bond programs. The city owns the building, and it would be foolish to think the city would not be involved in the development. Bottom line is, we want it on the tax rolls."

City Historian Dale Plummer also heads the revived Norwich Heritage Trust to advocate preserving the Reid & Hughes. Plummer, chairman of the trust, said he welcomes the plan to seek new development proposals, but is worried about the time it could take for a deal to be reached.

Plummer advocates patching the leaking and decaying roof in the meantime. Plummer said it could take months or longer for the city to receive responses and to negotiate an agreement.

The second resolution Monday involves severing an agreement with the Providence developers under the name 88-98 Chestnut Street LLC. The group renovated a brick apartment building and a second building, but a third and fourth phase comprising several other city-owned properties never materialized.

The resolution seeks to find the developer in default, noting "there has been a cessation of all attempts by the developer to discharge any of its obligations with respect to the project."

Nystrom said with the development at a standstill, neighboring property owners have expressed interest in some of the properties, and the lack of activity has inhibited their plans to develop their own properties.

City Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said according to the original agreement, the developer would have 30 days to "make it right" after the finding of default. Failing that, the agreement would be terminated, Driscoll said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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