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Norwich marina purchase goes through

Norwich - A new era for the city's waterfront began Monday when Joyal Capital Management LLC completed its purchase of the Marina at American Wharf for $750,000 from the estate of founder Ronald Aliano.

Joyal Capital purchased the marina business at city-owned American Wharf along with adjacent properties from American Wharf Development Corp., owned by Aliano's estate. Documents are expected to be filed on the city land records today.

The City Council approved transferring the remaining years of the 99-year lease, signed in 1987, on Sept. 6. The new owners plan to upgrade utilities, landscaping and buildings. Joyal Capital separately already owned the adjacent former Marina Towers office building.

Gary F. Joyal, chief executive officer of the firm, is expected to announce formal plans for the marina in the near future. Joyal was not available for comment Monday.

Lisa Jann Murphy, vice president of finance and operations for Joyal Capital, said the group will keep the Marina at American Wharf name but add the company's "J" into a new logo. The current seasonal restaurant Surf-n-Turf will return next spring, and dockmaster Michael Valentine - also the city harbormaster - will remain.

Joyal Capital wants the marina once again to take a lead role in the annual July 4 fireworks festival. For years, Aliano was lead contributor and organizer of the event that brought tens of thousands of people to the waterfront. The festival was canceled in 2010 after his death in 2009, but a committee of business leaders and volunteers revived the event with a last-minute fundraising effort this year.

"We're hoping to do a nice display," Jann Murphy said, "so that's something to look forward to."

Michael Franklin, who led the fireworks fundraising effort this year, said he expected a bigger and better event next year with the marina's involvement and a year to plan.

For now, Jann Murphy said, Joyal Capital will try to get as much work done as possible before winter in order to be ready to reopen the full-service marina in the spring. The group will send letters to boating tenants explaining the sale, will start a newsletter and will update the marina's website.

Norwich accountant Andre Messier, executor of Aliano's estate, and estate attorney Theodore Phillips said Monday's closing went "smoothly" after a one-month delay to iron out final paperwork.

"We're very happy that we were able to consummate the transaction," Messier said. "Based on our ongoing discussions with Gary Joyal, we're convinced the Joyal family will be welcome members of the Norwich community. We're excited that they will continue a world-class marina."

Mayor Peter Nystrom and other city officials said they were excited that the sale was completed, calling it the best option in the post-Aliano era.

Nystrom said he first wanted to sit down and meet the new owners and "listen to their ideas and plans." He will ask their plans for the former Putts Up Dock miniature golf course property, hoping the vacant land can be used to complement the adjacent Howard T. Brown Memorial Park.

John Paul Mereen, chairman of the Norwich Harbor Management Commission and a close friend of Aliano's, said a vibrant waterfront was critical to the success of the city. Mereen organized a summer concert series at Brown Park and hopes the new marina owners will help with that effort as well.

"Everyone knows and recognizes it's the heart of downtown," Nystrom said of the marina. "To maintain that whole concept of a full-service marina there is vital."

c.bessette@theday.com

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