Developing Fort Trumbull

In 1996 the Navy announced the closing of the 32-acre Naval Undersea Warfare Center at New London's Fort Trumbull, moving the command to Newport, R.I.

That blow was a catalyst for one of the largest redevelopment projects in the city's history - the controversial Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan. When some homeowners refused to sell to make way for redevelopment, the city turned to eminent domain, a controversial decision eventually upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fifteen years later developers are promoting plans for 80 to 104 residential units on 6.5 acres of the former NUWC property. If successful, it will be the first new construction in more than a decade on the 90-acre peninsula.

It is quality housing being proposed by River Bank Construction of Westport: clusters of attractive Greek Revival and Italianate units with inconspicuous garages and ample green space. While constructed as condominiums, the developer would rent the units until market conditions improve.

The business plan makes sense. The third-generation development company, now headed by the father and son team of Irwin and Robert Stillman, typically builds and sells. But in an interview with The Day Editorial Board, they said that is not feasible in today's market.

The Stillmans said they will be asking for some sort of tax abatement. Without one, they say the project might not be feasible. That's a lot to ask, given that the developers are virtually getting the property free. They will have to make the case for why the project cannot work without tax breaks. Any abatement provided should be minimal.

Developers are not clamoring to build at Fort Trumbull, or most anywhere else, these days. Financing can be difficult, and as the Stillmans' market research has shown, condominiums are not moving.

The Stillmans are proven developers. The metamorphosis of their original housing plan, presented to the New London Development Corp. and City Council last fall, to what it is today shows they have invested time and interest in the city and appreciate New London's architecture and seafaring history.

Naysayers will raise objections to any Fort Trumbull development, but lingering resentment will not change the past. The city didn't use eminent domain to seize these particular parcels.

The goals of the Fort Trumbull MDP are to create jobs, tax revenues and spin off economic activity for New London. This project has the potential to do all of that. The city can't afford to dismiss it.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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