Development group gets Reid & Hughes Building

Norwich - The City Council Monday agreed to turn over control of the Reid & Hughes Building on Main Street to the Norwich Community Development Corp. in the hopes of securing development there and asked the agency to report its progress in October.

The city-owned building has sat vacant for the past two decades, and the city and NCDC have made attempts to find a developer. In the most recent effort, NCDC oversaw a request for proposals that led to the selection of POKO Partners LLC in March as the preferred developer.

But POKO's plans required at least one adjacent building owned by the Lord Family Nominee Trust, and the two parties could not reach an agreement. A second plan put together by the Norwich Heritage Trust called for Hartford developer Carter Realty.

NCDC Executive Director Robert Mills told the City Council that other developers have since expressed interest, and by having NCDC lead the effort, negotiations could proceed without the need of a second RFP.

Resident Greg Grippo, however, objected strongly to the move during public comment Monday. Grippo rewrote the council resolution and read his version to the council. Grippo called NCDC's backing of the POKO proposal "ridiculous" because it included properties the company didn't own or control.

He said NCDC "hijacked" the development proposal citing itself as a nonprofit entity, while the Norwich Heritage Trust could have led a nonprofit effort to develop the building with Carter Realty.

Dale Plummer, president of the Norwich Heritage Trust, did not oppose turning over control of the building to NCDC, but urged the council to insert deadlines and performance criteria into the resolution. The original version contained neither provision.

Plummer also sought to dissuade the council from any thoughts of demolishing the historic former retail building, saying a restored Reid & Hughes Building would pay taxes and contribute to the historic streetscape.

"That's important if we are truly interested in revitalizing downtown," Plummer said.

Alderman Mark Bettencourt amended the resolution to require that NCDC report to the council at its first meeting in October on progress of negotiations, either in open session or behind closed doors.

Mills said Carter Realty formally withdrew, but NCDC asked the developer to remain in the running. Mills agreed to give an update to the council in October and said the agency hopes to have a clearer idea by the end of the year which developers are serious about renovating the Reid & Hughes.

"The whole purpose of this is to expedite things," Mills said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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