Published February 18. 2014 3:00PM Updated February 18. 2014 4:07PM
Norwich – City officials used an hour-long informal discussion with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tuesday morning to ask for support for proposed upgrades to the New England Central Railroad line, better grant and loan programs to help urban developers and assistance to get the historic Uncas Leap area named as a national heritage site.
Blumenthal’s stop in Norwich was the first in his plan to meet with new mayors and first selectmen elected in November. His visit was delayed for an hour as the senator was stuck in traffic on Interstate 395 and had to take a detour in the city caused by a traffic accident in the Norwich Free Academy area.
The delay and the weather forced him to cancel a planned walk to visit downtown businesses.
But one downtown developer on the tour made his way to City Hall for the meeting instead. Rahul Chadha, a partner in the Stamford-based JMD Manor LLC, which recently purchased the condemned Fairhaven apartment building on lower Broadway, expressed frustration at federal and state business assistance programs that leave his project out of the loop.
Chadha’s firm bought the Fairhaven for $84,900 in December, but he said renovations are expected to cost about $1 million. Installing a new elevator alone is expected to be “three times the purchase price,” he told Blumenthal. The building has been condemned for several years and had been ransacked repeatedly by vandals and metal thieves.
Chadha and Norwich Community Development Corp. officials told Blumenthal that the Fairhaven doesn’t qualify for most Small Business Administration programs, because the urban commercial building has both apartments and commercial space – not one or the other. State programs offer high 6 to 7 percent interest rates, and while low-income affordable housing credits might be available, Chadha wants to renovate the building for market rate housing.
Mayor Deberey Hinchey and City Manager Alan Bergren came to the meeting with Blumenthal from a morning meeting of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments. At that meeting, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, heard requests for federal support of a long-running plan to upgrade the New England Central Railroad from New London through Montville, Norwich and several northeastern towns to the Massachusetts border.
Hinchey and Bergren repeated that request to Blumenthal. The railroad line owner, Genesee & Wyoming Inc., is expected to apply for funding through the Transportation Investment in Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program for the project.
Blumenthal sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that would receive the railroad company’s application and promised support for the project.
Hinchey then asked Blumenthal for support for enhancing the historic Uncas Leap area of the Yantic River, a natural rocky gorge where a key 17th century battle between the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes took place. A committee of project advocates has been working on a master plan to improve the area and asked Blumenthal to support assistance from the National Park Service for signs to define the area and publicity to raise awareness of the historical significance of the site.