Firm reveals ambitious plans for long-vacant Fort Trumbull area

New London — A Maryland-based real estate investment firm is working on an ambitious large-scale plan for the Fort Trumbull area that would start with a mixed-use facility featuring a parking garage.

Croatan Capital LLC on Wednesday outlined the idea of a phased project that would cover multiple parcels of the Fort Trumbull development area — perhaps the entire area — and eventually could include a hotel and conference center, fish farm, recreational space, office building, residential units and improvements to the waterfront piers and docks.

The concept, with the most immediate plans being focused on the parking structure, was presented to the Renaissance City Development Association’s Real Estate Committee on Wednesday.

The committee agreed the idea had enough merit to allow for more formal negotiations that could lead to a development agreement. RCDA Executive Director Peter Davis has worked with Croatan principals Stephen Joseph and Keith Greengrove for the past year. Both attended Wednesday's meeting.

The unsolicited proposal from Croatan envisions a phased project that gets its start with a combined commercial, retail and parking building, with a parking garage on Parcel 3C — in the heart of the peninsula — that could accommodate anywhere from 600 to 800 vehicles.

The garage is expected to immediately address parking shortages caused by the explosion of Electric Boat employees occupying the former Pfizer headquarters. The city over the past several years has instituted on-street permit parking programs to help move vehicles out of nearby neighborhoods.

“Considering the proposed expansion again at Electric Boat, we would propose that now is the time to move forward with a structured and permanent solution,” Croatan principal Joseph said in his letter to the RCDA.

Croatan, in its proposal, said the parking facility could lead to a public-private partnership with the city and its Parking Authority. Through a proposed lease agreement, it would allow for the Parking Authority to manage the facility and produce a revenue stream.

Greengrove described the parking structure as required infrastructure for projects to come. He said it appears EB also has a need for expansion of its office space.

Davis acknowledged the "master plan scale" and potential complexities of the proposal by Croatan but said it also would allow for better planning if the projects were done in coordination with one another rather than piecemeal from different developers.

"I think the approach makes sense," Davis said.

Discussions still are preliminary and costs and timelines still are being calculated. Wednesday's vote allows for more vetting and background work by the RCDA on Croatan's financials and past projects.

A hotel and residential component of the plan was not yet introduced, since the RCDA is in informal talks with a hotel developer and a lawsuit by a former would-be developer has stymied proposals for at least four parcels. The RCDA also still has a development agreement with developers who want to build an apartment complex, Shipway 221, off Howard Street.

Westport-based River Bank Construction LLC, run by the father and son team of Irwin and Robert Stillman, has a pending lawsuit against the RCDA for breach of contract linked to a residential development at Fort Trumbull negotiated by the RCDA’s predecessor, the New London Redevelopment Association. Croatan’s proposal skirts any of the parcels targeted by the lawsuit.

Joseph said he looked to the future and a "universal agreement" with the Stillmans to allow for a residential component to their plan.

Croatan has even pitched the idea of relocating an existing office building at 1 Chelsea St. to a yet-to-be built office complex they would construct in a different location on the peninsula, closer to Fort Trumbull State Park, to clear an area for their plans.

That office building was developed by Boston-based Corcoran Jennison, who spent $24 million on the project and had, until 2008, been the preferred developer for the entire Fort Trumbull site with plans for a bioscience park, a hotel and conference center and housing.

It stands as one of the only examples of development in the years since the Fort Trumbull area was cleared and homes were seized by eminent domain in a battle that led to a 2005 Supreme Court decision siding with the city. RCDA points to improvements made by Lawrence + Memorial Hospital to its medical office complex on Howard Street as another example of successful development.

The state has poured millions into the peninsula for remediation and infrastructure work.

The Corcoran-Jennison building currently has tenants that include the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center, the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Laboratory, the International Ice Patrol, Alion Science & Technology and ABS Consulting Group.

Talks with developers interested in Fort Trumbull land have come and gone through the years. One of the most serious recent proposals came in 2016 by a Massachusetts hotel developer. That plan never came to fruition and the Shipway project has foundered.

Croatan acknowledges that EB and to some extent Yale New Haven Health could drive parts of the development.

“The principals of Croatan have had conversation with both General Dynamics/ Electric Boat and Yale New Haven Health about gaps in regional markets,” Joseph wrote in his letter to the RCDA.

“Concerns have been expressed about the lack of appropriately designed training and conference facilities with the level of IT required to meet current and future training standards, as well as a lack of extended stay facilities to accommodate short-term contract employees and government inspectors and auditors.”

The hotel proposal would include improvements to the existing pier and dock infrastructure on Parcel 1, a seasonal water taxi service from Fort Trumbull to downtown and development on Parcel 4A as a commercial professional office space.

Davis said it is still early in the process and if talks continue, the concept is likely to be further refined while the vetting process continues.

“Hopefully this moves towards a formal development agreement and a shovel in the ground,” Davis said.

He emphasized the fact that while it might be the first structure built under the plan, "it's not going to be just a parking garage."

Joseph and Greengrove said their firm is involved in a host of projects that include residential and commercial developments.

Joseph said they are typically more involved in the financial backing of projects and usually joint venture with construction firms on projects.

g.smith@theday.com

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