New London puts best foot forward at Garde event

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New London — Mayor Michael Passero confidently announced Thursday that “the Whaling City is on the rise” before stepping aside to offer proof of the statement.

Major area employers, business leaders and developers gathered together on stage at the Garde Arts Center on Thursday to highlight what many call a resurgence and renaissance in New London. The event, “Live, Work, Invest,” was an evening to tout accomplishments and lure investors.

About 200 people attended the event and heard from leaders at Electric Boat, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, The Day, the state Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Port Authority and offshore wind companies Deepwater Wind and Orsted.

Two hours earlier, Jason Kambitsis, the director of development for Pennsylvania-based A.R. Building Company, stood elbow to elbow with city officials while tossing dirt from a ceremonial silver shovel to mark the groundbreaking of a four-story, 98-unit, amenity-laden apartment complex on a Bank Street site that was vacant for decades.

“The reason we’re doing that is because the time is right for New London,” Kambitsis told Thursday’s crowd.

The company paid $650,000 for the city-owned land, known as Parcel J, and announced Thursday it was considering yet another 80-unit development. A.R. Building completed a $15 million, 104-unit complex at 60 Mansfield Road earlier this year.

Passero said A.R. and other developers are providing the city with a housing inventory it not only needs but the lack of which has been holding the city back. Much of that need is driven by EB, which employs 3,500 people at its design and engineering facility in New London.

EB, which holds an $8 billion federal submarine building contract, employs 12,000 people between its facilities in Groton and New London and will continue to hire as its workload increases and some of its older employees retire, said Thomas Plante, EB’s director of strategic planning.

Developers are catering the new residential developments to the younger generation seeking to live in an urban center and in some cases within walking distance from downtown and work. As part of its quest to be more friendly for cyclists, the city is planning to develop a shared bike path from the area of Connecticut College and the Coast Guard Academy to Ocean Beach.

Local development is good news for Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, which is recruiting physicians and specialists to meet the need in the area, said Patrick Green, president and CEO of L+M Healthcare.

L+M employs 2,300 people and saw more than 300,000 patients at the hospital and through its regional outpatient network in the last year. Green said the hospital is planning major capital investments in the coming years that include infrastructure improvements and a goal of providing 100 percent private patient rooms throughout the hospital.

“That means over the next few years you’re going to start seeing a lot of change at L+M, because we know that in order to be a thriving organization we don’t want to just survive as we’ve done in the past. We want to thrive,” Green said. “Adding value to the community is our number one goal.”

Deepwater Wind has promised $15 million for improvements at New London’s State Pier as it gears up for its offshore wind project, Revolution Wind project, with turbines located in federal waters between Montauk, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Deepwater Wind Vice President Matthew Morrissey said construction work related to the offshore work in New London could begin in 2021.

“Many ports would love to be in the position New London is right now,” Morrissey said.

Connecticut Port Authority Chairman Scott Bates agreed and said the state’s $25 million investment and work on upgrades at the state pier ultimately will lead to more area jobs.

Pat Richardson, president and publisher of The Day, sees similarities between New London and two historic seaport cities where she had worked previously as a newspaper publisher: Annapolis, Md., and Norfolk, Va.

“When I think of those markets and I think of New London, what do I think of? Each had a strong maritime heritage. Each has military presence ... and a sea coast that attracts thousands of visitors every year.”

“I saw cities that transformed themselves and attracted development and the way they did it was through focused leadership, through revitalization programs and an engaged citizenry. And I firmly believe we have those same opportunities here in New London,” Richardson said.

Thursday’s event was the brainchild of Felix Reyes, the director of the city's Office of Development and Planning, whom, along with Passero, many have praised with pushing forward new initiatives to develop better relationships with developers.

Reyes announced the creation of a new website, developnewlondon.com, which includes a guide for would-be developers.

g.smith@theday.com

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