New London may consolidate city offices, sell three buildings
New London — City officials have introduced a proposal to consolidate city administrative offices and sell off at least three of four city-owned buildings.
Mayor Michael Passero said he envisions the city leasing centrally located office space that could accommodate most, if not all, of the city’s departments under one roof. He said the search for that space is already underway.
Passero also confirmed talks are ongoing between the city and an unnamed developer who might be interested in buying the Richard R. Martin Center at 120 Broad St. and leasing back the Senior Citizens Center, which is located at the Martin Center.
“It’s ambitious,” Passero said of the plans. “We’re looking for first-class office space to provide employees with a quality working environment, a collegial atmosphere and provide convenience to citizens and affordability to taxpayers.”
Passero said the goal is to have lease options ready to present to the City Council before the budget is prepared.
The City Council was apprised of the plan last week through a presentation and analysis of costs by Felix Reyes, the city’s director of the Office of Development and Planning.
Reyes said the move is long overdue and operating out of four buildings is inefficient and costly.
Along with the Martin Center, the city maintains offices at City Hall at 181 State St., the finance building at 13-15 Masonic St. and the Stanton Building at 111 Union St.
The combined cost of operating the buildings is $313,000 annually, a figure that includes maintenance, utilities and insurance.
The city is spending $111,724 a year alone on the 61,000-square-foot Martin Center, which houses Public Utilities, Youth Affairs and Recreation departments, along with Veolia Water, the Center for the Blind and FRESH New London. The city has marketed the property through its development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association, with a condition that th space for the senior center remain. Veolia pays an annual rent of $70,000.
Passero said there are plans underway to move the Recreation Department and New London Youth Affairs to the Stanton Building.
Reyes said the city simply has not kept up on maintenance. He estimates that it would take more than $8 million in renovations to bring the buildings up to date. That figure includes a $3.6 million estimate for renovations at the century-old City Hall, a plan that has been shelved because of lack of funds.
Passero said he does not foresee an outright sale of City Hall as part of the plan. In addition to offices for various city departments, City Hall houses the regional probate court. Probate pays $16,561 in annual rent, Reyes said.
The high cost of renovations is mostly related to deferred maintenance and a lack of capital investment, Reyes said.
“To put it bluntly, we have done a poor job maintaining our facilities, and the city should not be in the business of owning commercial property,” Reyes said in his presentation to the City Council.
“As we look to improve the services we provide to our residents, visitors, businesses and investors, it is evident that the buildings we operate in are not up to municipal standards in several areas,” Reyes said.
Reyes argues that all of the city departments require about 20,000 square feet of space compared to the 100,000 square feet in the city’s four buildings.
Passero and Reyes both predict an overall savings by the move, though costs of leasing would have to be factored into the final analysis. Along with a major reduction in maintenance costs and the elimination of capital expenses, Reyes said, there is the potential for more than $200,000 in annual tax revenue flowing to the city once buildings are sold and developed.
Estimates on the cost of leasing was not part of Reyes’ presentation to the council.
Reyes said there are additional reasons for the city to lease. The City Council recently approved spending $217,000 for upgrades to the city’s technology systems, including a batch of new computers. Phasing the improvements into the existing infrastructure is not efficient, he said. The City Clerk's Office vault for vital records is at 95 percent capacity, and space concerns could be addressed during consolidation.
Reyes said the residents would be well served to have multiple departments under one roof, and a more collaborative environment would lead to increased productivity from employees.
Reyes and Passero declined to comment on which office buildings were under consideration for the consolidation, though only a few buildings in the immediate vicinity, including Mariner's Square office complex at 125 Eugene O'Neill Drive, fit the bill.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be the council’s decision. We are providing alternatives and opportunities for the council to consider,” Passero said.
The City Council is expected to take up discussion of the idea at future meetings.
Stories that may interest you
The USS Pittsburgh departs New London Harbor for the final time Tuesday.
Mike Popkowski is healing after the attack last week necessitated staples in his head and an ear suture.
Kristen E. Stringfellow, the 2017 Rhode Island Superintendent of the Year, was selected unanimously as the new Norwich superintendent.
Local and state officials and community members on Tuesday broke ground on the site of the new Groton Middle School located adjacent to Robert E. Fitch High School, which will serve as a consolidated school for all of Groton’s middle school students.