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Vacant buildings in Norwich are 'scary' scenario

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published January 14. 2014 4:00AM

Norwich - Calling the east end of Main Street "scary" for the number of landmark vacant buildings with little or no development interest, Mayor Deberey Hinchey said Monday she has started to address the situation.

Heading east on Main Street past the Buckingham Memorial Building, three buildings stand out: the Norwich Post Office, the former Elks Lodge on the left, and the former YMCA building on the right. At the intersection of Main, North Main and East Main, another vacant building, the former Floor Covering Shop building, dominates the corner.

"If you look at that end of town, it's pretty scary," Hinchey said during an interview with The Day's editorial board on Monday.

During Hinchey's first month in office, she already has started working on that slumbering block of downtown. U.S. Postal Service officials informed Hinchey Dec. 19 that a preliminary decision has been made to sell or lease the Main Street building and move the post office to an unnamed location elsewhere in Norwich.

At Hinchey's urging, the City Council voted last week to appeal the decision. The council doesn't so much object to the Postal Service vacating the oversized and obsolete - though historic - building, but that the valued service could move out of downtown entirely. Hinchey is slated to meet with Postal Service officials and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Jan. 22 at 1 p.m. at Courtney's Main Street office in Norwich.

Hinchey said she also has a meeting planned with officials at Chelsea Groton Bank, which holds the mortgage on the defunct YMCA of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc. to discuss the status of the former YMCA at 337 Main St. and any possible plans for its future.

Since the YMCA closed abruptly in March 2009, the building has been vandalized repeatedly and needs a new roof and new boiler. Soon after the closure, city officials had hoped to obtain regional support to convert the building into a regional recreational center but projected costs and the extent of the damage thwarted the plan.

On Friday, the city received three development proposals for another long-vacant building, the Reid & Hughes Building, a short way down Main Street from the YMCA and post office. Hinchey said she has started to review the proposals, all of which call for a mixture of apartments on the upper floors and retail at street level.

During the mayoral campaign, she said many residents objected to even that effort, preferring to tear down the historic building despite the estimated $574,000 to $800,000 the city would have to pay to tear it down. City incentives to a prospective developer could total $1.1 million in grants, tax breaks and permit fee waivers.

A review committee is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council by Feb. 18 on the proposals.

Asked if this will be the city's last attempt to find a developer for the Reid & Hughes, Hinchey responded: "Oh, yes, this is the last effort."

c.bessette@theday.com

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