NCDC to offer involvement in hunt for Reid & Hughes building developer

Norwich - The Norwich Community Development Corp. will ask the City Council Monday for an option to take control of the long-vacant Reid & Hughes building on Main Street in the hopes that the nonprofit agency can move quicker than the city in finding a developer.

Last fall, the City Council authorized NCDC to oversee a request for proposals process in the hopes of finding a developer for the split-level former retail store. But negotiations with the preferred developer, POKO Partners LLC, selected in March, have stalled, leading to a new resolution on Monday's council agenda.

The move to give NCDC an option - and thus control of the property without owning it - was part of the economic development agency's original report to the council outlining a recommended process for completing a development deal for the Reid & Hughes.

In the resolution on Monday's agenda, however, NCDC is specifically making the request based on its status as a nonprofit entity rather than as the city's appointed economic development agency.

"(NCDC) has offered to seek a developer for the Reid & Hughes Building and/or to otherwise seek to arrange the development of the Reid & Hughes Building but requires certain control of the premises for this endeavor," the resolution states.

The resolution calls for City Manager Alan Bergren to negotiate the option agreement with NCDC.

NCDC Vice President Jason Vincent said finding a successful developer for the Reid & Hughes is very complicated and likely will require multiple funding sources. But city officials have expressed reluctance in investing city funds into a development project at the historic Main Street building.

Under the option arrangement, Vincent said the agency could explore development proposals that would minimize city financial involvement.

Vincent said POKO, which had proposed a partnership with the Lord Family Nominee Trust for at least one adjacent building, and perhaps incorporating the nearby former People's Bank building across Main Street, is still in the running for the project.

The second proposal received this spring from Hartford-based developer Carter Realty in partnership with the Norwich Heritage Trust also could still be considered, Vincent said.

He added that other developers have expressed interest in the building without the need for a city grant beyond downtown revitalization funds already in place.

That would please Mayor Deberey Hinchey, who sponsored Monday's resolution. She said public sentiment is against spending "another dime" on the vacant building the city has owned for two decades.

"We're hoping that if the NCDC can take over control of the property, they will be able to market it in such a way that we can get different kinds of developers interested," Hinchey said. "They may be able to bring it to the attention of developers in a different way other than an RFP."

As a private entity, NCDC is not required to advertise for competitive bids for the property, Vincent said. Since NCDC wouldn't own the building, the agency would have to bring any proposed deal back to the City Council for approval.

"Our goal is market rate apartments, mixed-use development, with commercial or retail on the first floor, with a restored façade with the least amount of city participation," Vincent said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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