Norwich City Council urges state to keep DCF downtown

Norwich — The City Council voted unanimously Monday to oppose any effort to move the state Department of Children and Families' Norwich office out of downtown, especially if it would be relocated to the business park.

The DCF office occupies five floors and 36,000 square feet of space in the Shannon Building at 2 Courthouse Square in the heart of downtown. The lease expired 18 months ago.

The location is within walking distance to several other facilities that DCF clients also might need, including the city Human Services office, Safe Futures, Reliance Health, state family court and Norwich Superior Court.

While Southeast Area Transit does have bus service through the Stanley Israelite Norwich Business Park, the runs are limited, Mayor Peter Nystrom said Monday. The council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution that expressed concern over the failure thus far to renew the lease at the Shannon Building and the possibility of moving to the business park.

Nystrom said he is familiar with the building in the industrial park that is being considered and said it was built for manufacturing. Other aldermen agreed that the city should promote business uses for the business park, rather than nonprofit or state offices. And moving the office to an isolated location would make it difficult for clients to keep important appointments.

Alderman Samuel Browning said it would be difficult to find another tenant for the large office building at the corner of Main Street and Courthouse Square.

The council reviewed an economic analysis of the impact of DCF’s presence downtown, which was written by the Norwich Community Development Corp. The report calculated the economic value at approximately $1 million per year, with more than 200 employees leasing parking spaces, patronizing downtown restaurants and drawing clients who also might visit downtown businesses.

“The impact of such a relocation on downtown Norwich will be harmful and significant and will represent a major setback to the City of Norwich’s efforts to revitalize downtown Norwich,” the resolution stated.

The economic analysis was done in 2015 to support an application by building owner Jason Ziegler for a $100,000 revolving loan through the city-funded downtown revitalization program, which is administered by NCDC. The staff strongly recommended approving the loan after bank underwriters initially recommended against it, NCDC President Robert Mills said. The loan was reworked, reduced to $65,000 — half the cost of the building upgrades — and payment was made directly from the DCF lease payments, guaranteeing payments.

Mills said the upgrades, a condition by the state for renewing the lease, have been completed, but the state still has not yet renewed the lease.

Mills said NCDC felt the $65,000 loan with payment guarantees ended up being a small risk in an effort to secure a major economic contributor to downtown.

c.bessette@theday.com

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