Groton Economic Development Commission tours future development sites

Groton — The Economic Development Commission toured Groton’s future development sites by bus on Thursday, learning about each site from Economic Development Manager Paige Bronk.

“This way, when we’re talking now we all have the same vision, through his eyes,” Commission Chairwoman Catherine Young said.

The tour stopped at Mystic Education Center, the intersection of Routes 117 and 184, at Gold Star Highway, the former William Seely School, Groton Heights, Thames Street, Leonard Drive near the Groton New-London Airport and in downtown.

When developers visit any one of the sites, Bronk said they always ask him, “What else (have) you got?” He distributed a folder with details of the properties, including photos, maps, descriptions and the particulars about acres, buildings, square footage and nearby amenities.

“Now you have all this stuff and you can look impressive,” Young said. “I can see the vision down the road. Five, 10 years down the road.”

Unlike many New England towns that have a central open area or a town green, Groton has multiple centers of sorts, or clusters of development.

The town is trying to modernize those centers and redevelop others with an eye on mixed-use development that appeals to young workers at Electric Boat, who want walkable neighborhoods and a mix of housing, restaurants, retail and office space.

Mario DiLoreto, president of READCO Development, a real estate developer based in Old Lyme, said 18 months ago the company wanted to use tax increment financing to build a mixed-use development at the intersection of routes 184 and 117. It’s become more than an idea, Bronk said.

“It’s hard to imagine, but they want to break ground next year,” Bronk said. “This is a real project."

The intersection would be part of Groton’s first tax increment financing district, which uses future tax revenue to boost the credit of developers to make projects happen. A portion of tax revenue then is reinvested in the district.

“I certainly can imagine it,” said Michael Whitehouse, the Representative Town Meeting liaison to the commission. He viewed the woods near the former Tim Horton’s, where the mixed-use development is proposed.

The project is conceptual but would include 387 apartments, 35 townhouses and mixed-use retail space, along with office space, a pharmacy and additions to a local park.

“I think it’s great to see that intelligent mixed-use design, getting away from the mistakes of the past separating zoning. We’ve got five centers of gravity but no center, where I can say ‘I went down to the center and saw everyone I knew,’” Whitehouse said.

Bronk offered an update on the properties. The town shortly will begin interviewing the developers who responded to a request for proposals to redevelop the Mystic Education Center. The developments range from $15 million to $80 million. Developers also considered plans to incorporate the building with the pool, formerly used by the Groton Recreation Department, so it becomes available.

“One of the things that we did talk to a lot of developers about was, is there potential to actually try to integrate that back into the community in some form, and many, many have actually picked up on that,” he said. Bronk said he doesn't issue a request for proposals until he's heard interest from developers and knows they'll submit.

The town also is negotiating with a developer for 529 Gold Star Highway, a 17.6-acre site about a mile east of Interstate 95 at Exit 86. Additionally, developers have toured the former William Seely School and former Groton Heights School. The developers want to level the Seely school building. All want to save the Groton Heights School building, Bronk said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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