Can Passero lead New London to that 'bright future' he sees coming?

In delivering his “State of the City Address” on Wednesday, Mayor Michael Passero touched upon a theme all too familiar to New Londoners — things may not be so great now, but good times are right around the corner.

“I wanted to stand here and say the state of New London is great. Or say the state of New London has never been better. But that wouldn’t be the whole truth,” Passero told the audience gathered for a luncheon at the Holiday Inn downtown, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

“Because there are two pieces of this,” the mayor continued. “There’s today and then there is the future. And I can tell you with absolutely no hesitation that the future of New London … has never looked brighter to me. There is so much going on.”

Mayor Passero, you should have hesitation.

On his essential point, the mayor, now in his third year on the job, is right. New London’s prospects are appearing brighter, potentially much brighter. The trend of urban migration, seen among both millennials and retiring boomers; the job growth at Electric Boat and the need for housing it is generating; and prospects for a renewal of State Pier all bode well for a city that has long struggled.

But this bright future is not without challenges which, if not met, could lead to an opportunity lost, or at least not fully realized.

An amended version of the mayor’s statement might more properly read, “I can tell you that if we play our cards right, the future of New London is bright.”

Getting things right means the administration working closely with new investors who are buying up downtown property and showing a genuine interest in revitalization, while turning up the heat on speculators who are sitting on vacant property, using whatever blight, building and safety codes are available to send the message that progress is now the expectation.

Passero has to make sure the efforts of the two agencies intended to direct development in the city — the quasi-public Renaissance City Development Association and the Development and Planning Department in City Hall — are well coordinated.

The completion this year of the 104-unit apartment complex on Mansfield Road in the city, by Pennsylvania-based A.R. Building Co., and A.R.'s plans to develop a 98-unit apartment building on the long vacant lot at the corner of Bank and Howard streets are positive signs.

Disconcerting, however, is that Shipway 221, a project with the potential for 200 residential units on Howard Street, appears stalled, and any development on the Fort Trumbull peninsula remains elusive.

The mayor rightly credited the creation of the Connecticut Port Authority with bolstering the potential for New London harbor to act as an industrial engine for the city and region.

“It has created a future for our port and a future for our city that has been a missing element,” he said.

The port authority is in the process of conducting a competitive bid process to find a private operator for the port and interest is high, said Passero.

Increasing the port's potential was the recent news that Connecticut had selected Deepwater Wind and its Revolution Wind project, a 25-turbine wind farm in federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard, to feed 200 megawatts of electricity into the state grid. The company plans to start construction in 2021 and deliver power by 2023.

More critical for New London, Deepwater has committed to spending $15 million in infrastructure improvements which, when combined with a $15 million state investment, should make the pier a hub of activity in support of offshore wind-power construction.

Concerning this opportunity, Passero recognized he can’t take anything for granted.

"We want to prepare to make sure we capture as much of that industry as we can so that those jobs are in New London and the region,” he told the luncheon audience. “The potential there is tremendous if we work very hard over the course of the next year or so to capture the maximum benefit.”

Passero recognizes that high property taxes, the result of the city hosting so many nontaxable government and nonprofit  institutions that provide services to our region, could be an anchor on progress. He needs to work with other city mayors to present a united front in seeking tax relief from state lawmakers and a more equitable sharing of the burdens cities face.

The bottom line is much work remains. Only then will New London see the promise of a better future fulfilled.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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