Norwich City Council OKs sale of former Human Services building

Norwich — The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to approve a purchase and sale agreement with a business partnership for the former Human Services building and adjacent parking lot to be converted into the “Rose City Food Hall.”

The agreement with the LeWitt Group partners Asaf Cohen and Sofia LeWitt calls for selling the building at 80 Broadway and adjacent parking lot at 68 Broadway for a combined $131,300. The group will purchase the 1860 building — the original home of Otis Library — under the name Otis Home LLC with a plan to renovate it to house a commercial kitchen to be used by food vendors with a common dining area for customers.

The group will have 60 days to determine whether the project is financially feasible.

Alderwoman Joanne Philbrick voted in favor of the agreement, but questioned the 60-day opt-out provision. Philbrick said the group should have had access to the building prior to the written agreement to do its studies to ensure the project is feasible. She expressed concern that the city could end up in the same position as with the Reid & Hughes building. In that case, the preferred developer, the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development, expects to inform the City Council at a March 5 meeting whether it will back out of its plans for a $6 million renovation of the building.

City Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said the 60-day period also includes time to obtain city permits for the project. If the project is not feasible, the LeWitt Group would receive its $20,000 deposit back, and the city either could seek new requests for proposals for the Human Services building or auction it. The city received two initial proposals in October for the property, the second one for a brewery.

“I don’t want to see the city, once again, holding the bag,” Philbrick said.

Other aldermen expressed no such reservations about the LeWitt Group and said they are confident the experienced developers will carry out their plan.

Alderman William Nash had pushed for several years to vacate and sell the building and get it listed on the tax rolls.

“I’m kind of excited, and I look forward to it,” Nash said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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