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    Thursday, June 08, 2023

    OPINION: Could downtown New London get a 17-story apartment tower?

    I should start with the caveats.

    The first one came from New London Mayor Michael Passero, who told me that, although he has indeed met with developers discussing the possibility of a residential high rise downtown, it is still just talk.

    The mayor noted that lots of developers have floated game-changing projects for the city over the years that never came to fruition.

    He added that if just some of the projects being talked about now for downtown came true it would be transformational for the city.

    Another very big caveat for the idea of a downtown tower came from the developers considering it.

    “It is theory right now,” said Andrew Julian, representing the owner of the one-acre possible site, at the corner of Water Street and Governor Winthrop Boulevard.

    Still, whispers of the planning are circulating around town. Sign me up as a fan of the idea.

    If you had to build a big tall building in New London, what better place than at the edge of the historic district, not harming the architectural integrity of it but possibly breathing more life into downtown commerce.

    And there’s the cool factor, giving the old whaling city more punch in its skyline, a modern flourish.

    Julian said the developers are assessing costs of various projects for building on the site, from a wood structure that might be five stories to one using steel that could be 17 stories tall.

    The land is currently used for a parking lot behind the Mariner Square office building on Eugene O’Neill Drive. That office building and the undeveloped lot, Julian said, are owned by Bridgeport-based David D’Addario, who, according to news reports, sold his aluminum can manufacturing business in 2014 for $455 million in cash.

    Julian said they expect to finish broad planning decisions soon and possibly submit an application to the Planning and Zoning Commission within several months.

    They are moving quickly, he said, to meet the demand for housing created by the hiring trajectory at Electric Boat.

    The developers have already been to the Parking Authority to discuss the idea of linking a new 400-space garage to the city’s Water Street garage and paying the city a fee to manage it.

    The city hopes to hear by the fall whether its latest application for federal funding for an addition to the garage has been approved. Three other applications have been denied.

    The federal money would build an addition to the east of the existing parking structure. The developers are suggesting their addition would be to the north.

    Parking there is at a premium now in the summer, with traffic from the fast ferry passengers, and it would spike when the National Coast Guard Museum is finished and connected to the garage.

    “It would go to the City Council for approval,” Parking Authority Chairman Kip Bochain told me about the developers’ idea, adding the commission was receptive to the idea of managing the new private garage because it would raise revenue for the city.

    Whether it is a tall building or a more modest one, the demand created by Electric Boat hiring will almost certainly the determine the use of what’s built, Julian said.

    “It is time for more apartments in New London,” he said.

    And wouldn’t it be nice if they had views up and down the Thames River, if it is still called that.

    This is the opinion of David Collins


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