Merrill Lynch breaks ground on new office in Olde Mistick Village

Mystic — When the Olde Mistick Village seafood restaurant Go Fish downsized and a sign went up touting a forthcoming financial services office next door, some were left speculating about the new tenant.

Now, a banner publicizing Merrill Lynch as that wealth management company hangs above the sheath-covered building.

"The secret's finally out: it's Merrill Lynch," Olde Mistick Village property manager Chris Regan said at the groundbreaking for the office on Wednesday morning. "I've been working on this deal for over two years, and I think it's going to be a great boost for Stonington."

Mystic-based architect Peter Springsteel said the project will add about 4,000 square feet to the space that was previously part of Go Fish, bringing the total to 12,230 square feet.

Renovations occurred at Go Fish from January through June of this year to shrink its footprint. Restaurant owner Jon Kodama said the restaurant had felt "cavernous" in the space that was previously an IGA supermarket, and the decision to downsize was made as the end of its 20-year lease approached.

Next door, exterior construction should take about three months, Regan said. Joe Mariani, manager of Merrill Lynch's New London branch, hopes the new office will be open by the spring of 2018.

Moving to the office will be the 30 employees from the current New London and Mystic offices, and the company plans to build out the new location to 45 people.

"I know as we consolidate both offices, it's hard to leave New London — we've been there for over 40 years — but it's exciting to start new relationships," Mariani said.

Community leaders are enthusiastic at the prospect of Merrill Lynch employees bringing such new connections to businesses in the area.

"You can take them to the Bass [Factory Outlet] store and get some cheapo shoes I buy, or take them downtown for ice cream," Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons said. He added, "If your folks get hungry over lunch, they can go to one of Jon Kodama's restaurants."

Kodama's other restaurant in Olde Mistick Village is Steak Loft.

Simmons animatedly talked about the financial services company's past connection to Stonington: James Merrill, a poet and the son of a Merrill Lynch co-founder, moved to a house in Stonington Borough with his partner in the 1950s.

Speaking at the groundbreaking, state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said that the move is great not only for Mystic and Stonington but also for the entire region.

"I think it really shows the kind of confidence that people have, businesses have, [and] citizens have in our local leadership," she said. Lamenting leadership on the state level, Somers added, "Whatever you're doing, we need to bring it to Hartford."

The plans arose when Regan got a call from Merrill Lynch asking about constructing a building in the parking lot. Regan said that wouldn't work because it's the site of a planned hotel.

But he asked Merrill Lynch representatives to lunch at Go Fish and asked how they felt about having an office there.

"It's obviously the most identifiable piece of real estate in Southeastern Connecticut," Mariani said about Olde Mistick Village. He added that people are moving to the area and the company wants to be where they are.

Between 2015 and 2016, Stonington saw the largest population growth of any city or town in Connecticut, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

e.moser@theday.com

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