With Utopia Out, The Offers Roll In

Preston — In the past seven days the town has received multiple inquiries from developers or representatives of development firms expressing interest in building at the former state hospital property.

First Selectman Robert Congdon told members of the Norwich Hospital Advisory Committee Wednesday night that in the past week he has received at least one formal letter and phone calls from three real estate brokers and a previous contender to develop the property.

Since the advisory committee and selectmen voted last week to terminate their development agreement with Utopia Studios Ltd., Congdon's office has been contacted by Northland Investment Corp. of Newton, Mass., JHM Financial Group of Stamford and three real estate brokers representing unidentified developers.

In addition, Lebanon developer Mark Fields has said he is interested in reviving his proposal to build his $500 million Thames River Landing project at the site.

Before other developers are considered for the property, Congdon said the town will need legal advice to determine how to proceed.

In a Nov. 20 letter to Congdon, opened and released Wednesday night, Charles T. Coursey of Northland wrote that the firm has followed the progress of Utopia's proposed $1.6 billion entertainment complex proposal and is impressed by the scope and concept of the project.

The letter includes a sampling of Northland's accomplishments, including developing the Hartford 21 project, and notes that the company has a major presence in Connecticut, a $500 million portfolio and an “unblemished financial and development track record.”

Coursey wrote that the company is “prepared to immediately step in as project developer and meet the conditions of the Development Agreement.”

When reached Wednesday night, Coursey declined to clarify the statement, adding that the letter speaks for itself.

Coursey said Northland intends to be respectful of the process and will wait to see what the town decides to do with the hospital property if its association with Utopia Studios is officially dead.

After the meeting, Congdon said Coursey called him Tuesday to follow up on the letter. Congdon said he understood that Northland had sent the letter based on news stories about the company's interest but that he declined to talk to Coursey.

Congdon said a representative from Northland attended the meeting Wednesday and afterwards came up to him to again express the company's interest in the property.

“She said when we're ready to move forward to give them a call,” Congdon said.

Another known developer to express interest in the property, JHM Financial Group, was one of a dozen firms to present ideas to the advisory committee in 2005 when initial talks with Utopia broke off.

In 2005, advisory committee members heard a presentation from a JHM representative but could not consider the proposal. The day before it had voted to renew negotiations with Utopia.

At that time, JHM said it would hire independent firms to conduct market studies to determine whether hotels, age-restricted housing, high-end retail stores, a golf course and a marina would work on the hospital campus.

Advisory committee members did not acknowledge whether they had received a formal request from Fields to reconsider the Thames River Landing project, which would include a 500-slip marina, equestrian development center, an indoor arena that seats 5,000, a time-share resort, hotel and convention center, a theater, a marketplace and an on-site television studio.

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