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Groton seeks airport development zone

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published July 15. 2014 4:00AM
Officials hope region's economy could see benefit

Groton — The town is applying for an airport development zone around Groton-New London Airport, which, if granted, would provide tax breaks to manufacturing and other businesses that locate within a 2-mile radius and create a potential economic boost to the region.

The development zone is part of a broader effort by Groton officials to improve the local and regional economy. Town Councilor Bob Frink asked his colleagues last week to support a request for proposals for a market analysis of Groton that would look at what businesses would most likely succeed in town. The council votes on the request today.

The plan is to take that analysis and choose two or three of the most promising options, then channel the town's effort into them. The assessment would differ from past studies that viewed Groton's future from a citizens' point of view, Frink said.

"This is the other side of the equation. What does the market say?" Frink said. "A cold-blooded view: What does the market say?"

The town's Economic Development Commission chairman, George Mathanool, said Monday that the town seeks a consultant that would provide not just analysis but a "business plan," a detailed map of what must be done each month to create improvement. He compared it to the instructions needed to assemble a finished model.

"There must be something that we can deliver to our taxpayers, our residents, in the next year," he said. "We want something that we can see in 2015 that is positive and tangible."

Kristin Clarke, economic development specialist with the town, told the Town Council last week she had spoken to the state Department of Economic and Community Development and started the application process for a zone.

The zone makes it possible for a manufacturing or airport-related business to receive a tax exemption of 80 percent of assessed value for five years.

"There's practically no downside," Frink said.

The development zone could benefit all of eastern Connecticut and link the port and highways, said Mathanool.

"We want to participate purely because of the potential economic breadth of value it could provide all across this region," he said. "And Groton could become the epicenter of that change."

"I think it's critically important for us, and I always have," said Tony Sheridan, president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. A development zone could create a hub for business that helps surrounding communities and the two casinos, Sheridan said.

Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said Monday he'd also like to see some commercial service restored at the airport.

"I believe that there is the potential to re-establish service, probably first to the Cape and the islands" he said, referring to Cape Cod and Block Island. If the service were successful, it could be expanded at some point to a hub like Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia, he said.

A development zone could also be of value because it would put Groton into a state system that markets business incentives, Town Manager Mark Oefinger said.

The legislature created airport development zones and the Connecticut Airport Authority in 2011 to try to turn Bradley International Airport into an economic driver for the state. It was later expanded to allow development zones around the state's five general-aviation airports, including Groton-New London. The authority approves airport development zones and determines what businesses qualify.

Groton-New London is the only one of the five that meets the requirements for commercial service.

Catherine Young, manger of the airport, said Monday that town officials had spoken to her about establishing a zone and she believed it would be positive for the airport. She referred all other questions to the airport authority.

The Waterbury-Oxford Airport established an airport development zone last year.

Clarke told the council she is also working on compiling an inventory of all available property for sale or rent in town. She wants to make it accessible online so potential buyers and developers can easily access it.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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