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New London — The City Flats development conceived last year by New London Harbour Towers project manager Tony Silvestri got its first public display Friday during tours of a historic home on Blinman Street that has been converted into affordable condominium units.
The four-unit house at 48 Blinman St., dressed in a historic red color, reminded older residents of a much ballyhooed project from more than three decades ago in which the now-defunct New England Savings Bank took an entire city block and transformed it into an upscale neighborhood.
“This is the greatest thing since Starr Street,” said City Councilor Michael Passero during a ribbon-cutting for the project Thursday. “Tony has this vision. It’s just so great to see it happen.”
“This is the perfect type of development at the perfect time,” Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said to an invited crowd of about 100. “In New London, you have to be persistent, and Tony is persistent.”
Silvestri said he already has purchased or is about to buy seven properties behind Harbour Towers, targeting homes on Blinman, Reed and Coit streets that were in the worst condition — some former drug dens.
The initial idea was to improve the neighborhood around Harbour Towers to make it easier to sell the upscale Bank Street condominiums — a goal that came to fruition with the sale of six units this year facing City Flats when buyers started seeing the potential windfall of the development.
But the project has taken on a life of its own, according to Silvestri, who reports a waiting list of about 40 for City Flats, all potential homeowners who have put $500 down.
Right now, only 31 owner-occupied units are in the works, but Silvestri said he is working on other acquisitions in the area. Prices range from $80,000 to $128,000 for the four units first to come on the market. The most expensive unit comes with 1,400 square feet, while the smallest is 650 square feet. Mortgages for the Blinman Street units will range in cost from a little more than $500 to about $750 a month, including taxes and insurance, with no money down — less if owners can make a significant down payment.
Candace Devendittis, owner of Dev’s on Bank restaurant near the development, said she is on the City Flats waiting list, hoping to move into a Coit Street condominium in November. “This is affordability,” Devendittis said. “If you have a job in New London, you can live here.”
The Tagliatella family, which backed the nine-story, 52-unit New London Harbour Towers project, has poured big money into City Flats — nearly $400,000 in the first house alone, Silvestri said.
The project will be profitable, he added, largely through the use of housing tax credits purchased through the state by large corporations.
“We’re putting in $80,000 to $90,000 per unit,” Silvestri said. “We get back up to $30,000 per unit in tax credits.”
The housing credits require City Flats to do a complete renovation in a historically appropriate way, and Silvestri has made sure to retain significant architectural features and original materials such as cedar siding while also doing full lead and asbestos abatements. He also used energy-efficient appliances and lighting, developed a insulation system that adhered to high standards and installed wood floors and granite countertops.
“This isn’t low-income or affordable housing,” Silvestri said. “It’s just housing that’s affordable.”
The monthly cost of the units that are expected to start closing next month are being kept lower than market rental rates, making a purchase a no-brainer, he said. The costs are low partially because of a city tax-abatement program, but Silvestri pointed out that even without the break for homeowners the monthly obligation would still be relatively low.
Potential buyers on the waiting list are being offered units as they become available. Every unit gets one off-street parking space. Silvestri said he is hoping to finish an average of one new City Flats building per month.
“Tony Silvestri puts his money where his mouth is,” said Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. “Here you have a man that is revitalizing New London in every sense of the word.”