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EB official gets look at Ponemah Mill apartments

Norwich — As Electric Boat continues recruiting to fill some 14,000 positions over the next 10 years, a question often is posed by nonlocal applicants: “What about housing in the region?” said Maura M. Dunn, EB vice president of Human Resources and Administration.

At the invitation of state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, Dunn spent an hour Friday touring one potential answer to the recruits’ question: the Lofts at Ponemah Mills in Taftville, located about a half-hour from the Groton shipyard.

Developer OneKey LLC recently completed renovations on the first half of the giant Ponemah Mill No. 1, opening 116 spacious one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments with vaulted ceilings, huge windows and amenities such as in-unit laundry machines, central air and intercom phones to the leasing office.

The complex includes a fitness center with a sauna, community room, a 15-seat theater, game room and outdoor grill stations, each with a sink and refrigerator and picnic table.

“You guys have really done an incredible job,” Dunn said while viewing the fitness room at the start of the tour. “I love all the light.”

Finbar O’Neill, chief operating officer of OneKey, said the group tried to work with the features of the original building as much as possible, keeping the hefty wooden beams and columns that once supported the expansive mill floors, as well as retaining the more than 2,000 full-size mill windows.

“We tried to keep the character of the building,” he said.

After the tour, Dunn said EB in general is recruiting from throughout the New England area, including using college recruiters. Part of the process is to help them become acclimated to the region, with high-quality housing and amenities young professionals seek, she said.

"Many of them are from other parts of Connecticut and New England," she said. "They inquire about living arrangements. We want to make information available for our college recruiters to make people see their way here."

Poster-size diagrams of the unit layouts are on display in the leasing office. The Taft lofts are 880 square feet. The two-story Yantic flats are 1,102 square feet, the Thames lofts, 691 square feet, and Shetucket single-story flats are 782 square feet.

As for the theater, grill area and future park with trails, a dog area and kayak launch above the dam on the Shetucket River, O’Neill said: “The state has been good enough to support the project. We wanted to go a step beyond.”

The project has received a combination of loans from the state Department of Housing and Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, as well as Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and state and federal historic preservation tax credits. The units are a mixture of market rate and affordable rental prices based on tenants’ incomes. Prices range from $880 to $1,400 per month, depending on the size of the unit.

One $1,400 unit Dunn toured Friday would be $1,050 in the affordable category for a family of four earning about $55,000 per year, said property manager Lynn Branciforte of Konover Residential Corp., the leasing agent for the complex.

Osten said that income level would be consistent with some of the entry-level positions at EB and for entry-level trades workers.

“A brand new engineer would be able to get workforce development level housing,” Osten said. “Some people think affordable housing is Section 8 housing, but it’s not. It’s workforce development housing.”

The $30 million first phase of the Ponemah project, which renovated the southern half of the giant mill building, was completed in November and includes 116 apartments. Branciforte said 25 residents have moved in, and another 20 tenants are expected to move in by Feb. 1.

Ponemah recently secured financing for the $32 million second phase for 121 additional units in the northern half of the building that fronts on Route 97 in Taftville. Construction will start in spring. A third phase will include 77 units in a rear wing that juts out toward the river and a row of smaller buildings that run parallel to the river. Those will be converted into townhouses facing the river, O’Neill said.

OneKey plans a fourth phase in the adjacent mill building with retail and commercial development to support the proposed 314 total residential units.

In the meantime, the second building is available for industrial uses, O’Neill said — possibly including EB subcontractors also needed for the shipyard’s buildup.

c.bessette@theday.com

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