Groton, New London leaders provide economic development updates

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Groton — While some speak of living each day as if it were their last, New London Mayor Michael Passero tries to live every day as if the window for economic opportunity could close tomorrow.

He said you could wake up one morning to find economists saying it closed six months ago.

This is how he capped a rundown of the city's economic development efforts, part of a Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut update Friday morning at the Submarine Force Library and Museum.

Joining him in speaking were City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick, Groton Town Manager John Burt and Thames River Innovation Place Executive Director Liz Pasqualini. The chamber held a State of the City event about New London last year and has sponsored state of Groton and Ledyard meetings in years prior.

"We're very densely populated, but our goal is to become more densely populated," Passero said, "because we believe that's where our success is."

He noted that while the area has employment opportunities, it doesn't have housing opportunities, but cited A.R. Building Co.'s construction of apartments at Parcel J — at Bank and Howard streets — and a development agreement for 104 units on the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

Passero also spoke about efforts to bring in a "microtransit" system similar to an Uber Pool. He toured the systems that the transit technology company TransLoc Inc. set up in Norwalk and Old Saybrook. The mayor was in Washington, D.C., this week promoting a grant application to add 400 to 500 more spaces to the Water Street parking garage.

Regarding developments in Groton, Burt talked about the purpose of the federally designated Opportunity Zone in the town and the approval Wednesday night of a major rewrite to zoning regulations.

The final selection of a preferred developer is underway for the former Seely School property, and Burt said it will hopefully be "a higher-end housing complex, but built so that it can connect to Route 12 businesses in the future."

Economic development staff recently went to an International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Boston, the planning and zoning commissions will merge at the end of the month, and the town is hoping to update its website in the next year.

In September, there will be an information session on a plastics ordinance, and a joint meeting of the town and city for a public hearing on a proposed Tax Increment Financing district.

Hedrick opened his remarks by saying, "If you drive down Thames Street right now in the City of Groton, you will be underwhelmed."

He's adopting a "how do you get to yes" mentality, but the struggle is getting the two or three people who own a lot of city property to redevelop.

"I have some people that the only way I'm going to get a yes from them is when they die," he said. But he noted that the city has a prospective buyer of the former Garbo Lobster facility, and Mystic Oysters, which harvests from Fishers Island Sound, is expanding into the city.

"We're going to get the first farm-to-table seafood restaurant on the water in the region," Hedrick said to applause. He also spoke of working with the private sector for pop-up events, food trucks and entertainment, and said the city is trying to do a boardwalk on the water.

The last speaker, Pasqualini, has served as executive director of Thames River Innovation Place since the end of May. Emma Palzere-Rae had been serving as interim director after the previous director, David McBride, left to become New London's finance director.

Pasqualini, a 33-year-old North Stonington native, received a master's degree in public affairs from Brown University last year. She previously served as executive director of the Jonnycake Center of Westerly from 2010 to 2017.

In updating those gathered Friday, Pasqualini said TRIP is working with the chamber to open a business incubator and co-working space in New London, its Naval & Maritime Consortium project has about 60 local partner companies, and it will be identifying year-three projects in September.

e.moser@theday.com

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