Norwich planning officials view Mohegans' plans for hospital property

A map rendering of the proposed development by the Mohegan Sun of the former Norwich Hospital property. (Submitted by Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority)
A map rendering of the proposed development by the Mohegan Sun of the former Norwich Hospital property. (Submitted by Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority)

Norwich — The plans to develop a major sports, entertainment, retail and housing resort at the former Norwich Hospital property in Preston will serve as a catalyst to create a vision for the “Thames River Valley” region from New London to Norwich, Preston officials told Norwich planners Tuesday.

The Norwich Commission on the City Plan invited Preston town officials to discuss the overall plan and potential timing of the proposed $200 million to $600 million development at the 388-acre former Norwich Hospital property in Preston.

Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent and Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority Project Manager Curtis Strom told the Norwich agency and about 15 others in attendance, including several city officials and representatives from city agencies, that development is expected to get underway by 2019, following about a year of final environmental cleanup.

Strom said he couldn't make any specific development announcements Tuesday, but tribal officials have met with many potential developers in what he described as “very successful conversations.” Tribal officials are in discussions with one major “pink elephant” that tribal officials hope to land first so that other development can fill in the gaps on the property.

Announcements on specific developments could be made within a year to 18 months, Strom said.

The conceptual master plans shows a large theme park, indoor water park, a large sports complex, three hotels, a senior living center, marina at the river, areas for large and small retail stores, RV camping and synthetic downhill skiing — “it won't be real snow,” Strom said.

In describing the sports complex, Strom said it could host baseball and/or soccer tournaments that would attract families to weekend tournaments, staying at hotels in the region and visiting other attractions. Strom said the Mohegans' goal is to entice them to stay for a week or longer for a full vacation.

Both Strom and Nugent said they fully expect the project to anchor the entire region's stronghold as a destination resort area, attracting vacationers and families to explore attractions up and down the Thames River.

Nugent said a team of national real estate experts from the Counselors of Real Estate, who studied the Norwich Hospital property potential, recommended taking advantage of the Thames River Valley theme in promoting the property in connection with the entire region.

Strom said Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown and his predecessor and brother Mark Brown are committed to ensuring the Norwich Hospital development complements not only the tribe's Mohegan Sun Casino directly across the river, but surrounding towns, as well. Strom said Kevin Brown has made it clear to his planning staff that he looks at the property every day as he drives to his office on the Montville side.

“He says to us: 'Don't screw it up,'” Strom said. “Chairman Brown is very interested in this working for the region, not just for Preston and the Mohegan tribe.”

Strom said once the Preston development gets under way, the nearly 50 acres of former Norwich Hospital property in Norwich will become more attractive to developers. That property, owned by Colchester developer Mark Fields under the name Thames River Landing LLC, has yet to undergo environmental cleanup and still is dominated by decaying institutional buildings and long-abandoned former staff housing.

Norwich planning commission members and others asked several questions following the presentation on the timing of development, traffic expectations and whether the project would have housing to accommodate some of the workers.

Even before the Mohegan development was announced, the Preston Planning and Zoning Commission put zoning restrictions on the property to limit housing to 30 percent of the total. Norwich planning commission member Kathy Warzecha also is the town planner in Preston. She said recent zoning amendments submitted by the tribe would reduce that limit to 20 percent. Strom acknowledged that housing is not the main focus of the development.

c.bessette@theday.com

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