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Proposed $8.8 million Main Street project would be first to receive Norwich grant money

Norwich — An $8.8 million redevelopment of two long-vacant Main Street buildings stands to become the first recipient of city grant and loan money through a revived economic development program if approved by the City Council.

Norwich Luxury Apartments LLC purchased the two-building complex at 77-91 Main St. in early August for $1.8 million and is proposing an $8.8 million makeover of the 19th century buildings into 42 market-rate apartments and eight street-level commercial spaces. The buildings had been proposed as a Norwich heritage museum in the 1990s, a project that eventually fell through after it had received grant money from the state to stabilize the decaying buildings.

The project on Thursday received unanimous support from the Norwich Community Development Corp. board of directors for a $400,000 matching grant for building code corrections and a separate $400,000 loan. But the action is contingent upon the City Council’s approval of a plan to use $2 million of the city’s $14.4 million in American Rescue Plan grants to revive the former downtown revitalization program and expand it citywide.

The council is scheduled to vote on City Manager John Salomone’s spending plan for the ARP grant money on Sept. 7.

But NCDC President Kevin Brown said the board wanted to show its support with a contingency vote Thursday to allow the developers to continue their planning and design for the project.

“This project is an $8.8 million project in downtown Norwich,” Brown said. “That’s a 10 to 1 return on the public dollars put into this thing if we get the approval to move forward and use the ARP for this.”

Even if the council approves the ARP spending plan Monday, NCDC has a few more steps to go through before it can allocate the proposed $2 million. The expanded economic development revitalization program must be designed, and NCDC must sign an agreement with the city for use of the funds. Brown said the former downtown program will be used as the basis, with funding to be divided into a building code correction program, a lease rebate to assist new businesses and a revolving loan, with the proceeds remaining in the program to assist future developers.

The grant to the Main Street project would come under the code correction and the revolving loan, Brown said.

Project attorney Stanley Schutzman said in an email to The Day describing the project that the city’s funds would be vital in allowing the project to move forward. But he said the city’s money would not be drawn down until the project renovations receive a certificate of occupancy from city inspectors.

“It is enabling the development to occur,” Schutzman said in the email. “This development satisfies the criteria and intent of the funds both in terms of spurring downtown redevelopment and economic activity as well as bringing the properties to current code compliance.”

The proposed project calls for 42 loft-style apartments with a fitness center for tenants, recreation room, “clean and green” appliances, high-speed communications infrastructure and other amenities. The developers hope to negotiate leased parking spaces in the city’s two nearby parking garages for tenants.

The two buildings would undergo a full façade restoration to their original historical appearance, retaining the “beautiful masonry exterior, arches and fine architectural details,” Schutzman wrote. A glass display case in the lobby will feature artifacts specific to the buildings’ history.

Schutzman said the developers expect to submit plans, designed by local architect Stefan Nousiopoulos, to the city within the next few weeks and would start construction following approval. The project is expected to take 12 to 16 months to complete.

Brown said the Main Street project is exactly the type of development NCDC hopes to support in downtown and other sections of the city. He said bringing 42 market-rate apartments to Main Street would mean customers for nearby restaurants and pubs, downtown shops and city functions.

He said NCDC staff, including former President Jason Vincent, who died in December, and interim transition specialist Fawn Walker had been working with the developers through the planning stages of the project. Given the “high potential” that NCDC would receive the ARP dollars, the agency staff brought it to the board for approval on Thursday.

“We would not be this committal if we weren’t confident that project financing is imminent,” Brown said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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