Stabilization work on Reid & Hughes in Norwich to start Tuesday

The boarded-up Reid and Hughes building on Main St. in Norwich is seen Jan. 30, 2017. Work will begin Tuesday on the $500,000 stabilization phase of the building on Main Street, where the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development hopes to obtain financing for a planned $6 million renovation project.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The boarded-up Reid and Hughes building on Main St. in Norwich is seen Jan. 30, 2017. Work will begin Tuesday on the $500,000 stabilization phase of the building on Main Street, where the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development hopes to obtain financing for a planned $6 million renovation project. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Norwich — Work will begin Tuesday on the $500,000 stabilization phase in the Reid & Hughes building on Main Street, where the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development hopes to obtain financing for a planned $6 million renovation project.

“Stabilization in Progress,” reads a new sign on the building façade at 201 Main St., which also lists eight partner agencies that either provided funds or are working to help save the former 19th century department store and key piece of the historical streetscape.

Mayor Peter Nystrom on Friday morning touted the work about to begin at the Reid & Hughes during a news conference a short distance up Main Street, where the Norwich Historical Society announced a $118,000 grant to replace the roof on the historic Buckingham Memorial building at 307 Main St.

The Reid & Hughes project has had a difficult path to the pending construction that will repair the roof and upper walls to prevent further decay as the Women’s Center seeks financing for the full renovation.

Part of that uncertainty remained visible on the building Friday, as an older demolition pending sign adorned the building along with the new sign announcing that stabilization work was in progress.

The City Council initially had given up hope of finding a developer for the long-vacant, city-owned building and in October of 2016 voted to demolish the building and approve an $800,000 bond for the work. Historic preservation advocates intervened and the state Historic Preservation Council rejected the city’s application to tear down the building.

The Women’s Institute submitted the only development plan in a subsequent request for proposals but the agency that specializes in renovating rundown historic buildings nearly balked at the financial risk of investing the estimated $500,000 needed to stabilize the building without guarantee that it could be saved in the long run.

The historic preservation advocates and other entities rallied to the building’s support again this spring, contributing grants totaling $315,000 toward the stabilization project, and the City Council reluctantly agreed to contribute $150,000 in city money to the project — as long as the city’s money is used last in the work.

The institute also was approved for a $450,000 loan for the stabilization portion but the agency’s board of directors did not want to commit to repaying money for just the temporary stabilization work. 

The stabilization sign depicts logos for the city of Norwich, project architect Crosskey Architects, the Women’s Institute, LaRosa Building Group, Capital for a Change, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Connecticut Main Street and Local Initiatives Support Corp.

One entity that is not depicted on the sign but had a major role in working to preserve the building is the Norwich Heritage Trust, headed by City Historian Dale Plummer. The group filed the appeal to the state Historic Preservation Council to fight the city’s demolition application.

Plummer credited the Women’s Institute for its perseverance, New London developer William Morse for offering to invest in the project as a private citizen, and to Mayor Nystrom for his ongoing support for the project.

“A lot of people have helped,” Plummer said Friday. “A lot of people came to the City Council meetings and spoke in favor.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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