State Street property changes hands

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New London — Prominent downtown property owner and developer Yehuda Amar, with building rehab projects underway on Bank Street, has rounded the corner and expanded his holdings onto State Street.

Amar and business partner Joseph Grillo have purchased the mostly vacant Cronin Building at 78 State St. The building previously was owned by Evan Blum, who bought it in 2005 with plans to expand his salvage and antique business. Blum is the owner of Demolition Depot and Irreplaceable Artifacts, with locations in Middletown and New York.

Blum never did open his business in New London.

While he hasn’t yet revealed his plans for the four-story structure built in the late 1880s, Amar said Wednesday his first order of business is cleaning up the property in anticipation of a project starting in about a year.

An assessment of the property completed in May found it to be in “poor to fair” condition, with structural work needed to bring the structure up to usable condition. An appraiser determined the property has an assessed value of $201,888.

“I like the building but there is a lot we have to do,” Amar said.

Amar said he is now completing the finishing work on waterview apartments at 53 Bank St., which will soon be on the market. The building is the site of the former Royal Hotel and Ernie’s Cafe. He still is seeking a tenant for the restaurant space at street level.

Amar’s focus prior to work on State Street is the completion of a project to transform 123 Bank St., most recently the home to the New London Antiques Center, in a similar manner to what he did at 53 Bank St. — a mix of retail and residential space.

Among other projects, he has completed a renovation project at 153 Bank St., the former Modern Electric, into street-level retail spaces and six upstairs apartments, all rented.

Amar and his partner, doing business as JYST 78-88 LLC, bought the State Street building, known in city records as 78-88 State St., from Tuthill Finance in August for $200,000.

Court records show that in 2015 Tuthill Finance filed a civil suit against Blum, his New London company, New London Phoenix LLC, and his Middletown company, Middletown Phoenix Realty LLC, seeking to foreclose on the properties in the two cities for failure to make mortgage payments.

The two sides secured an agreement in 2018 and the New London property was transferred to Tuthill Finance in March 2019, records show.

The State Street property has changed hands several times since it was purchased, with three other buildings by Cabrini Inc., the real-estate arm of the former New London Development Corp. Connecticut College had financed the $500,000 purchase of the building in 1998 with the idea of helping to revitalize the downtown.

Blum bought the property in 2005 with his sights set on storing and selling his wares, an eclectic mix of salvaged material from demolished buildings.

Since the retail side of the operation never opened on State Street, the city filed a civil suit in 2018, claiming Blum was violating city zoning rules that bar storage facilities in the central business district. Blum has argued he had faced zoning and building department obstacles despite hundreds of thousands of dollars in work on the property.

Blum said he is more of an artist than a developer and said he “loved the building but the cards were stacked against me.”

“I really didn’t want to let it go. I have a great plan and a good business,” he said.

At one point, Blum said he came up with the idea of filling empty storefronts in the downtown with a variety of creative businesses, including antique shops, places that would complement one another. The idea never caught on with local business owners, he said.

Blum, who also has a storefront in New York City, said he is “chugging along” with his new space in Norwich, slowly filling the 200,000 square feet with materials salvaged from dozens of buildings each year. He said that at some point he plans to open a retail operation in the sprawling space he owns at the former Atlantic Packaging Corp. complex in the Greeneville section of Norwich. There, he said, “people will get a real feel for what I do.”

g.smith@theday.com

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