Published June 26. 2014 4:00AM Updated June 26. 2014 7:09PM
Norwich - Thayer's Marine launched another expansion of the growing boat sales, service and related retail business with the purchase Wednesday of three nearby properties on Falls Avenue for a boat showroom and possible rental space for other marine-related businesses.
Under the name Mary-Anna Holdings LLC, Thayer's Marine purchased three long, connected former mill buildings at 17-35 Falls Ave. and a 0.8-acre vacant lot across the street at 28 Falls Ave. for a combined total of $250,000 from former owner Eastern Regional Property Investors LLC.
Eastern Regional Property Investors retained a $240,000 mortgage on the property.
Richard Thayer Jr., general manager of the marine business, said the property on the banks of the Yantic River provides an immediate expansion adjacent to the existing boat sales and service facility. He has been renting the property for the past 1½ years, using the closest building - the one in the best condition - as a boat showroom. Its high ceilings and open floor allows display of 30 boats.
The second connected long single-story old mill building is in slightly worse condition. He uses that for used boat storage. Broken windows allow birds free run to nest in the rafters.
"We haven't put windows in here yet," Thayer said.
The third connected building is sagging and unused. He plans to demolish it.
In January, Thayer's Marine received approval from the Commission on the City Plan to build a combination boat showroom and retail store with apartments upstairs at the business' West Main Street frontage. Thayer said that plan still needs to be drawn up by architects before he can pursue building permits. The Falls Avenue property filled an immediate need.
The Falls Avenue buildings stand at the edge of the east branch of he Yantic River as the river splits around Hollyhock Island, where Thayer's Marine and Falls Avenue are located near Norwich Harbor.
The lot across Falls Avenue will be fenced in and used for much-needed outdoor storage, he said.
Thayer plans to revive an old permit application for 75 small boat slips but first needs a bulkhead permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Walking back toward the established marine boatyard and retail store, Thayer pointed to a small open space where he wants to bring his daughter Rachel Thayer's screenprinting business, Rachie T's. She is now located on Thayer's Marine's other property on nearby North Thames Street.
In another spot, he hopes to attract rental marine-related businesses, possibly a sail canvas business and maybe boutique shops where boaters could shop when they dock in Norwich.
"I'd like this entire area to be: If you've got something for the water, come here," Thayer said.
A local fishing club now gathers informally inside Thayer's retail store, with little space for the 30 members. The Chelsea Boat Club and crew clubs gather at the harbor, but they have no formal meeting or prep space. Thayer hopes to offer that kind of space to clubs and classes.
"We hold boating classes, and have to go to Essex for space," Thayer said. "I'd like to keep it here and provide room they can use for that."
Thayer said he worked with Norwich Community Development Corp. on the expansion plans, and the agency helped apply for a Small Business Administration loan. But Thayer said it proved less expensive to have the former owners hold the mortgage. Thayer does plan to apply for the downtown revitalization incentive programs offered by the city through NCDC.
NCDC Executive Director Robert Mills said he looks forward to working with Thayer on the expansion. He welcomed the concept of a marine services enclave at the harbor, with more boat slips and businesses to attract boaters to the district.
"They do good work," he said of Thayer's Marine. "They've done their planning. We're anxious to continue to be there as a willing partner if they need us."