$5 million state grant approved for Preston Riverwalk property

Preston — The town’s effort to clean up the remaining former Norwich Hospital buildings and other structures received a major boost Thursday, when the state Bond Commission unanimously approved a $5 million Urban Act grant with no local match required to continue the work.

The funding will allow the Preston Redevelopment Agency to tackle one of the largest and most expensive buildings to demolish on the main campus, the former Kettle Building on Route 12. The grant amounts to half the estimated amount needed to complete the entire cleanup of the former state hospital campus.

“This was the huge hurdle we had to overcome. This will go a long way toward getting this property shovel-ready for development,” First Selectman Robert Congdon said after meeting and posing for photos with PRA Chairman Sean Nugent, agency member Jim Bell, state Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.

Both Malloy and Wyman have toured the 393-acre campus now in the town’s hands.

Nugent said Malloy asked during the meeting when the town would be able to use the money, and the answer was “right away.” While the PRA expects to finish demolition work by April using two current loans totaling $4 million, preliminary work using the new funding will begin immediately.

Town officials plan to invite Malloy to a ceremony when demolition begins on the Kettle Building.

Prior to Thursday’s Bond Commission meeting, town officials met with the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region to urge that the redevelopment of the former Norwich Hospital property, now called Preston Riverwalk, be listed as a top regional priority in the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy report. That would give the town a better chance to obtain federal grants — matched with the new state grant — for the cleanup.

Congdon said he appreciated Malloy’s comments during the Bond Commission meeting that the state support reverses previous state actions that abandoned and neglected the Norwich Hospital facility, leaving the contaminated building crumbling.

Nugent said with the total $13 million in grants and loans and local matches obtained prior to Thursday’s $5 million grant, the PRA has been able to demolish 42 of the 62 total structures — including tunnels and oil tanks — on the main campus.

By April 1, there should be only about eight to 10 buildings remaining when the town starts to spend the new $5 million grant.

Town officials hope the work to clean up the property will better position the land for development. The PRA has contracted with Boston-based real estate broker Jones, Lang, LaSalle to market the property. Nugent said he has updated the firm with the new grant information for its advertising efforts.

The PRA met in executive session Wednesday to discuss “sale of real estate within Preston Riverwalk.” Nugent said Thursday he could not comment on the discussions. Nugent said a number of firms have inquired about the property and a couple of groups have toured the property.

“My true elation won’t happen until we have a development contract in hand,” Nugent said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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