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    Monday, March 27, 2023

    Business event highlights school redevelopment, culinary tourism, manufacturing

    Groton — In the annual Groton business update, a planning director, a restaurateur and a politician touched on efforts to get those working in Groton to live in Groton, redevelopment of shuttered schools, culinary tourism, attracting manufacturing talent and preservation of Long Island Sound.

    Groton Director of Planning Jonathan Reiner, restaurateur Dan Meiser and U.S. Sen Chris Murphy, D-Conn., spoke at the breakfast the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce held Friday at the Mystic Marriott.

    Murphy mainly focused on his "paranoia that Connecticut is not going to be ready for the boom of manufacturing that is coming," and his work on Long Island Sound. He noted that President Donald Trump's proposed budget includes a record $12.2 billion in funding for submarine construction, saying it's great news except for the lack of people to do those jobs.

    The senator said he was happy to welcome U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to the region recently, that "notwithstanding my revulsion to many of the priorities of the president, if there are ways we can work together ... I'm happy to do it."

    Murphy said funding for the Long Island Sound Geographic Program has increased from $2 million to $4 million to $8 million, and he's hoping to get it to $20 million this year.

    Responding to questions from attorney Richard Dixon about infrastructure and North Stonington First Selectman Mike Urgo about the Green New Deal, Murphy said he thinks the president is "incapable of cutting a big deal" on infrastructure, and that it will take another administration to reset the conversation on climate change.

    As for state politics, Meiser — owner of Oyster Club, Grass & Bone, and Engine Room in Mystic — urged people to have their voices heard, and to bring civility back to the political process.

    At the Capitol, he said he hears issues pitched as owners versus workers, rich versus poor, old versus young, and white men versus minorities and women, whereas his view is that "compromise and commonality is truly what this country was founded on."

    He also talked about how Mystic can compete on a national scale with its farming, fishing, cooking and artisan products.

    "Culinary tourism creates jobs," he said. "Culinary tourism creates tax revenue. Culinary tourism gives us a national spotlight."

    For example, Stone Acres Farm — owned by his wife, Jane Meiser — hosts farm dinners with guest chefs from around the world, while the owner of Sift Bake Shop won the title of Best Baker in America on the Food Network last year.

    Speaking before Meiser and Murphy, Reiner talked about the redevelopment of former schools, saying he expects to make an announcement in the next few months on the preferred developer who was selected for the Mystic Education Center.

    "It's going to be a new village, it really is," he said. "It's going to utilize the existing historic buildings there."

    Additionally, the undersea technology company ThayerMahan will be adding 40 jobs in its first phase and 40 in its second at the former Groton Heights School.

    A preferred developer has been selected for 517/529 Gold Star Highway and selection of a preferred developer is underway for the Seely School; Reiner said the town is looking at multifamily housing for both.

    He also touched on efforts to revitalize Poquonnock Bridge, the Explore More Groton economic development website, changes to the zoning regulations, and Tax Increment Financing districts, which allow the town to attract developers by leveraging future tax revenue for development.

    There will be a public hearing on the zoning rewrite — which Reiner said is more about reducing the number of zones and streamlining regulations than making substantial changes — on June 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Annex. There also will be public hearings, he said, on Tax Increment Financing in August and September.

    These efforts are designed in part to address the fact that while there are 26,000 jobs in Groton, only 20 percent of the workers live in the town.


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