Bank Street buildings planned for demolition now for sale

The building at 130 Bank St., at left, is one of two historical buildings in downtown New London that property owner Bill Cornish is seeking to demolish. (David Collins/The Day)
The building at 130 Bank St., at left, is one of two historical buildings in downtown New London that property owner Bill Cornish is seeking to demolish. (David Collins/The Day)

New London — Two Bank Street buildings, whose demolition was halted through the efforts of local historic preservationists, are now on the market.

Bill Cornish, the owner of 116 and 130 Bank St., says he has not yet given up on his plan to tear down the buildings in favor of one larger structure. Recognizing he faces an uphill legal battle against the state, however, Cornish said he will entertain offers.

The buildings, adjacent to each other, are being marketed together by U.S. Properties as an investment opportunity with a combined list price of $559,000, more than $100,000 more than city records show Cornish paid for the buildings in 2016.

Laura Natusch, executive director of New London Landmarks, the group that has spearheaded the movement to save the buildings, said “we’re happy to see the buildings on the market.”

“They're both repairable, they're both important pieces of Bank Street's historic character, and now someone who sees their potential will have the opportunity to purchase and rehabilitate them,” she said.

Cornish had applied for demolition permits for both of the structures and said he always had envisioned one building occupying both sites, in part to make enough room to make the property profitable. He said the final design would be suitable to fit the historic nature of the street.

Those plans are now tied up in a legal battle with an attorney from the state Office of the Attorney General, which is representing the state historic preservation office in an effort to obtain a permanent injunction against razing the buildings. The two sides are due back in New London Superior Court on Nov. 30 for a hearing.

“In the meantime, in case I lose, if someone else is in love with them like these historic people, I’ll sell them,” Cornish said.

Natusch said she was hopeful that the judge will find that there are "feasible, prudent alternatives to demolishing these buildings. Selling them to someone willing to put the resources into repairing them would be one such alternative."

Cornish said he is dead set against investing the funds or even applying for historic tax credits to rehabilitate the buildings when in the end he said he will not see a return on his investment. Cornish’s preliminary idea is to build a four-story structure with 17 apartments and ground-level retails space, similar to the Bacon Building, another property he owns at 130 State St. and where he said he has invested more than $1 million.

“If I can’t take them down, they are of no value to me,” Cornish said.

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation argues it has presented alternatives, including construction of a third building, that would bring a suitable return.

Cornish applied for demolition of the buildings in March and April, and by May the city’s Historic District Commission and Design Review Board voted to impose a 180-day delay on the demolition. The plans drew an outcry from New London Landmarks, which argued that the buildings are of historic value and contribute to the Downtown New London Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Landmarks mounted a campaign to save the buildings, collected more than 1,500 signatures as part of a petition drive and successfully made a case to the state Historic Preservation Council, which in July recommended the attorney general’s office get involved. The state will argue the buildings are protected resources under the Environmental Protection Act.

Cornish argues that 116 Bank St., a former adult video store, is of questionable historic value and 130 Bank St. is simply too far in disrepair to salvage.

The John Shepard House at 116 Bank St. was built in about 1790, and 130 Bank St., referred to as the Deshon House, was built in 1828, according to Todd Levine, an architectural historian with the State Historic Preservation Office.

g.smith@theday.com

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