North Carolina developer takes on Norwich hotel effort

Norwich - A North Carolina hotel developer has completed foreclosure action on an abandoned, partially constructed hotel project on Route 82 off Interstate 395 at Exit 80, and city officials say the firm hopes to complete construction.

Winston Hospitality Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., completed a complex foreclosure process against former owner PRA at Norwich LLC and numerous other lien holders in Hartford Superior Court. The action was filed on the Norwich land records Tuesday for the incomplete hotel building at 154 Salem Turnpike.

Robert Winston, chief executive officer of the firm, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Winston Hospitality's website describes the firm as a hotel development and management company with seven hotels in Alabama, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Robert Mills, president of the Norwich Community Development Corp., said he has been in discussions with Winston since January. Mills said the company also took ownership of a defunct hotel project in Wallingford and plans to complete both hotels.

But Mills said the "2½ years of legal wrangling" was just the first obstacle for the firm. The abandoned building has been vandalized by metal thieves and now requires costly renovations. The local hotel market also remains depressed, adding to financial concerns for the project.

The property is not located in a city enterprise zone or in the downtown revitalization area, where it would automatically qualify for tax breaks and other city financial programs.

Mayor Peter Nystrom and City Manager Alan Bergren said city officials do not yet know what form of city assistance the developers will seek. Bergren said tax increment financing - in which future taxes are dedicated to paying off loans for the project - could be a possibility.

"It's good news," Bergren said of the takeover. "I don't know how long it's going to take. They've been working to close out a lot of liens. He did indicate it was a daunting task."

PRA at Norwich Inc., a Philadelphia-based company, received permits in 2006 for a 113-room Hampton Inn & Suites at the site. Construction progressed steadily, and the building seemed nearly done when work stopped and financial problems mounted. Several companies filed liens for unpaid work, and the Bank of Smithtown started foreclosure in August 2010.

c.bessette@theday.com

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