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Ledyard - One year after the Town Council approved a tax abatement for the owners of Riverside Mall, aesthetic improvements to the site of the Ocean State Job Lot on Route 12 are well underway.
Long considered an eyesore for the residents of Gales Ferry, Riverside Mall was a major development priority when Mayor John Rodolico took office in late 2011. Mayoral Assistant Mark Bancroft said the owners approached the town last year about making some improvements in exchange for a tax abatement on any increased value of the property. The assessed value as of September 2012 is about $2.1 million.
The three-year, three-phase plan, totaling $512,000, began last September. Though phase one was meant to be completed by December 2012 - with the entire project wrapping up by the end of 2014 - some work in that phase is still ongoing, and a stipulation in the tax agreement says it is subject to "reasonable extension." The abatement is set to expire no later than Dec. 31, 2016.
Town Planner Charlie Karno said he expects phase one to be completed no later than the end of next month.
Karno said among the improvements so far are the restriping of the parking spaces, filled asphalt cracks, a new coat of sealer on the parking lot, painting and repairs of the pylon "Ocean State Job Lot" sign and the enclosing of the sign in stones.
Several light poles have also been removed, Karno said, and the "gull wing" light fixtures have been switched out with less obtrusive LED lights.
"There's been some positive changes in the facility," he said, adding that they are not "dramatic."
Karno said phase two has begun, overlapping with the completion of phase one. In this phase, among other improvements, the building will be repainted and the sidwalks will be cleaned and resurfaced.
The Planning & Zoning Commission also approved plans in May for a new facade on the Job Lot building, and a large section of the parking lot - 96 of the 460 existing spaces - is slated to be uprooted and replaced with grass.
"I think that it's moving along as scheduled, as planned," Bancroft said. "It is a welcome change to see anything being done. For years, nothing had been done. The building was allowed to deteriorate."
Officials' last attempts to beautify the dilapidated plaza - also home to a Chinese restaurant and package store - stalled when the state rejected its application for a $325,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant in early 2012. As of last year, the property had a 60 percent vacancy rate.
Last fall, the Town Council adopted a plan for about $1.5 million in streetscape improvements along this stretch of Route 12, designed by Mystic-based firm Kent+Frost Landscape Architecture. The plan was submitted in September as part of an application for a $500,000 state Main Street Investment Fund grant, and officials are still waiting to hear back.
"If we did get the grant, I think we could make a big difference in that whole area," Karno said.