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Developer plans to buy historic Wauregan Hotel project in Norwich

Norwich – A developer who owns about 600 affordable housing units in four states is poised to purchase the Wauregan Apartments, the renovated historic former Wauregan Hotel at the corner of Main and Broadway.

David McCarthy, founder and president of Norwalk-based Heritage Housing, Inc. and his business partner, J. Tomilson Hill, a retired hedge fund manager, plan to purchase the Wauregan from current owner, Wauregan Development LLC, the ownership name used by developer Becker and Becker Associates, which has owned the building since completing extensive renovations in 2004.

The building where Abraham Lincoln stayed during an 1860 campaign tour through Norwich, has 75 affordable housing apartments, a restored ballroom and five street-front commercial spaces, all currently occupied.

The historic Wauregan, originally built in the 1850s and later expanded, was on the brink of demolition in the late 1990s, when the city reluctantly approved developer Bruce Becker’s plans to save the partially collapsed, fire-damaged, condemned building after state historic preservation officials denied the city’s demolition request.

Becker on Monday said he was selling the building for accounting and tax reasons.

“It’s not that I don’t love it as much as any building,” he said. Becker said he loves the “challenge” of taking on historic buildings on their last legs.

“It’s been a great adventure,” he said. “It’s never been an economic success, but we never really took it on for that reason.”

On Monday night the City Council voted to transfer a property tax abatement deal negotiated with Becker that has allows the Wauregan a waiver of real estate property taxes if the owner can show at the end of each fiscal year that the building, assessed at $2.5 million, did not turn a profit. The owners, though, have paid about $3,000 per year in personal property taxes, city Tax Collector Karlene Deal said Monday.

The council added a condition that the new owner address deterioration of the exterior decorative cornices on the building, identified by City Planner Deanna Rhodes as a potential problem.

The purchasing partners will pay $600,000 for Becker’s ownership portion and will take on the outstanding mortgages and complex financing deals compiled for the renovation project, McCarthy said. The partners plan no major changes to the building’s operation and will retain the current on-site leasing and property management firm, Winn Management Co., McCarthy said.

The Wauregan will not become part of McCarthy’s Heritage Housing, Inc., which owns about 600 affordable housing units in Connecticut, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and soon in Kentucky, but will be owned separately under the name, Wauregan Owner LLC. It will be the partners’ first property in southeastern Connecticut.

“The Wauregan was attractive, because I’ve known Bruce Becker for many years,” McCarthy said. “I know he develops high-quality projects. We feel the Wauregan is a high-quality investment.”

City Historian Dale Plummer, who led the battle in the 1990s to save the Wauregan from demolition, has been a resident in the building since it opened in 2005. Plummer on Monday congratulated Becker for his success in saving the building, restoring the historic downtown asset and for finding a high-quality buyer.

Plummer said he has been pleased with his apartment, the building’s maintenance and management over the years. Plummer’s apartment was not affected by a series of broken defective sprinkler pipes in the early years.

“It’s been 15 years, plus the several years of development,” Plummer said. “There were some wrinkles, but I think it has worked out well.”

The pipe bursts twice flooded the elegantly restored ballroom. The pipe problem has long since been resolved, but now it’s the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered the ballroom from hosting banquets and events.

“Hopefully, when the pandemic ends, we’ll see the ballroom come alive again,” Plummer said.

c.bessette@theday.com

 

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