Pawcatuck businessman has plans for long-vacant downtown building

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Stonington — James Lathrop, who has rehabilitated two downtown Pawcatuck buildings with plans for a third, has now purchased the long-vacant Laura’s Landing building next to the Pawcatuck River bridge.

The dilapidated, three-story structure at 34 West Broad St., which sits next to the veterans park, has long been seen as a key parcel in the revival of downtown Pawcatuck and making it as vibrant as neighboring downtown Westerly.

Lathrop said his initial plan is to create eight to 10 apartments on the upper floors, and a restaurant with outdoor space along the Pawcatuck River on the ground floor. The property has 160 feet of frontage along the river and Lathrop said there is a possibility of docking boats there.

“Hopefully it’s a good investment long-term. It will really make us feel good that we can substantially improve on what downtown Pawcatuck looks like,” he said Tuesday.

Lathrop said the fact that so many people drive by the building each day and see it has been vacant for more than 30 years “gives people pause about investing in downtown Pawcatuck.”

Initially, Lathrop said, he wants to clean up the site and remove as much blight as possible to make the property more appealing. “That’s very important to me,” he said. “We’re well aware of how it looked and how its condition reflected on downtown Pawcatuck.”

Work already has begun on the building, as crews have demolished a rear deck and are clearing out “years of accumulated debris and belongings” from inside and repairing the roof so it is watertight. Electricity and heat will be turned back on so work can continue through the winter.

Lathrop said that in addition to the extensive work that needs to be done on the property, he will be working to obtain financing and get various state and local approvals.

“Projects like this are not easy. They are a grind. It’s an old building and you find things you did not expect,” he said.

Lathrop said residents initially will see a flurry of activity at the site and then work will be in a holding pattern “until the paperwork catches up.” He said he will be trying to get the 97-year-old building listed on the State Register of Historic Places so the project is eligible for grants, loans and tax credits.

“Then we’ll have designs to show the town and the public,” he said.

Town Hall records show that 34 West Broad Street LLC, which lists Lathrop as its principal, bought the building, also known as the Walton Block, two weeks ago for $250,000 from Philip Becker of Glendale, Calif. The town has appraised the property for $359,700.

Becker, who had purchased the building in 2017 for $360,000 from Helene Fox Blackall, never went forward with any plans. Blackall’s husband, Fred, had bought the building from a bank for $120,000 in 1994. The Blackalls also never went forward with any renovations, despite urgings from town officials to address the blighted conditions.

Lathrop already has renovated another blighted, vacant building at 2-4 Mechanic St. that now houses Stonington Realty and his business Best Energy. He also has purchased the vacant, boarded-up building next door at 6 Mechanic St., with plans to renovate it into retail space and a two-bedroom apartment.

Across the street at 29 West Broad St., Lathrop has renovated the ground floor into four commercial spaces and is creating two apartments upstairs.

First Selectman Rob Simmons on Tuesday called Lathrop’s purchase of the property “a very exciting prospect,” adding he hopes a walkway can be built from the veterans park along the building to Donahue Park.

Lathrop’s purchase of the building comes as Jewett City Savings Bank gets set to open in the former Citizens Bank building at 46 West Broad St. and last week the Economic Development Commission began reviewing preliminary sketches to help market the Campbell Grain building site to potential developers.

Over the past few years, the town has changed zoning and flood regulations to spur investment in the downtown.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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