Reid & Hughes agreement to go to Norwich council on Monday
Norwich — A proposed development agreement between the city and the Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development will be presented to the City Council on Monday. The deal calls for the developer to stabilize the Reid & Hughes Building over the winter and secure financing for a planned $6 million to $7 million renovation within three years.
The city and Women's Institute officials have been negotiating a proposed development agreement since March, when the City Council agreed to put off planned demolition of the historic building to allow for the possibility of redevelopment. The Women's Institute calls for converting the building into affordable and market-rate rental housing in the upper stories, with some units reserved for veterans, and commercial space on the first floor.
The council will be asked to approve the 19-page agreement in a resolution at Monday's 7 p.m. meeting. The proposed agreement is posted on the city's website, and hard copies are available for review at the city clerk's office and will be posted on the wall outside Council Chambers at City Hall.
The proposed agreement is likely the last chance to save the 19th century retail department store building, which is considered a contributing structure to the downtown National Historic District and an important facade in the historic Main Street streetscape.
The state Historic Preservation Council denied the city's request to demolish the building last December, with members of the preservation council blaming the city's neglect over the years in part for the structure's decayed condition. The City Council had approved spending up to $800,000 for the demolition, and obtained demolition bids at the same time as negotiations were proceeding with the Women's Institute, which submitted the lone development bid for the property in April.
“We're cautiously optimistic,” City Manager John Salomone said of the proposed development agreement. “The Women's Institute has done this kind of work before, and they have the experience.”
In the proposed agreement, the Women's Institute has 90 days from the date the agreement is signed to secure funding to stabilize the building to prevent further decay. Once the funding is secure, the group would have 120 days to do the stabilization work, which would take place during the coming winter and early spring, if the council approves the pact Monday.
City officials originally had anticipated the stabilization would start this summer and be completed by winter, but negotiations took longer than expected.
Betsy Crum, executive director of the Women's Institute, said Thursday the stabilization is expected to cost $400,000 to $500,000, higher than the group's initial estimate, and the group already is seeking funding through “a number of pre-development sources.” New London developer Bill Morse has agreed to contribute $200,000 toward the project, and the institute will apply for a downtown revitalization fund matching grant administered by the Norwich Community Development Corp.
Crum said the institute will be ready to apply for funding and for two zoning variances needed for the project Tuesday morning, if the agreement is approved Monday.
If the stabilization work is successful, the Women's Institute would have 36 months to secure major financing for the work. Once financing is in place, the group would have another 36 months to do the construction for the project.
The city would convey the property to the institute after the work is completed, but could convey the property sooner if ownership is necessary for the institute to obtain a mortgage on the property, the agreement states.
Crum said the institute already has approved the agreement and is awaiting city approval.
“We're just looking forward to getting started,” Crum said of the proposed agreement.
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