Norwich officials push to keep DCF in downtown

Norwich — For more than 20 years, the state Department of Children and Families has occupied the key corner of Main Street and Courthouse Square in downtown Norwich, nearly filling the historic Shannon building directly across from Norwich Superior courthouse.

But the agency’s lease expired about 18 months ago, and city officials are rallying to support a long-term renewal of the downtown anchor amid rumors that the state is considering moving DCF to a building in the Stanley Israelite Norwich Business Park.

The City Council will consider a resolution at its 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday to “express concern” over the failure of the state to renew the lease of the 36,000 square feet of the Shannon Building at 2 Courthouse Square and to express opposition to any plans to relocate to the business park “or elsewhere.”

An economic analysis conducted by the Norwich Community Development Corp. calculated that DCF’s presence in downtown Norwich contributes approximately $1 million directly and indirectly to the city, Norwich Public Utilities and downtown businesses.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, whose district includes Norwich, said she and her staff are working with the state Department of Administrative Services, which oversees state leases and real estate transactions, and the Office of Policy and Management on the lease issue.

Business benefits aside, Osten said, the location downtown is most convenient to clients and fellow agencies that work with DCF. The offices are directly across from the Norwich courthouse and within walking distances of state probation, family court, other state and city agencies, as well as Safe Futures, Reliance Health and other private agencies clients might need.

“I think that things are going in the right direction, but until we have a signed lease, we can’t be sure,” Osten said.

Jason Ziegler, owner of the Shannon Building, said DCF occupies 95 percent of the building, with offices on five floors and an estimated 180 to 200 employees.

Ziegler said it’s not unusual for the state to be renting long after the lease expired, and at one point the agency rented for eight or nine years without a lease. But he too is concerned about the talk that DCF could move to the business park.

Ziegler said he offered the state a 40-year lease with rent fixed at the current rate for the entire time. In addition, he already pays for the more than 200 leased parking spaces at a private lot behind the building and pays for janitorial services. He declined to reveal dollar amounts with the proposed lease still in negotiations.

He said the state is reviewing the proposal. “We’ve been speaking for a few weeks now,” he said.

A DAS spokesman could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Ziegler said securing a long-term lease would be a major benefit to downtown and would signal to surrounding building owners and potential developers that the business climate is stable, with high numbers of potential customers at the key location.

“Someone considering moving into downtown would see that there's a 40-year lease (in the Shannon Building), so it's stable,” Ziegler said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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