Norwich Reid & Hughes project awaits critical funding decision Tuesday

Norwich – The City Council voted unanimously Monday to continue working with the preferred developer for the Reid & Hughes building, pending the outcome of a crucial vote Tuesday on the developer’s application for $150,000 from the city’s downtown revitalization fund.

If approved, the $150,000 would complete the amount needed to stabilize the building and pursue renovation financing.

The Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development has proposed a $6 million renovation project to convert the 19th-century former department store into 20 apartments and street level commercial space.

Betsy Crum, executive director of the Women’s Institute, told the City Council Monday that if the downtown revitalization funds are approved, the group would have $465,000 in grant funding committed to the estimated $500,000 stabilization portion of the project. Crum said her board of directors is comfortable going forward with the project with that amount of funding in hand.

A committee of business, finance and construction experts will review and vote on the Women’s Institute’s request for the city revitalization funds Tuesday afternoon.

In addition, the Women’s Institute has secured a loan totaling $211,689 from the Local Initiative Support Corp. to supplement the grant funding.

But Crum said if the downtown revitalization grant application is not approved, the project would be in jeopardy. The institute has applied for the $150,000 under the building code grant program, which normally has a cap of $100,000. The program also normally calls for developers to be eligible for a certificate of occupancy after the grant-funded work is completed.

In this case, however, the Women’s Institute would be stabilizing the decaying building to get it ready for development. But officials said that work would be part of the eventual full renovation, including code compliance work, so the application qualifies for the downtown revitalization funding.

Mayor Peter Nystrom said the grant review process was designed to be apolitical, and the review committee is independent of the City Council and even independent of the Norwich Community Development Corp. board of directors, which oversees the city-funded revitalization program.

Last August, the City Council approved the Women’s Institute as the preferred developer after the state Historic Preservation Council rejected the city’s request to demolish the building. On Jan. 2, the council agreed to give the Women’s Institute a 60-day extension on its deadline to secure funding for the stabilization, which would have expired Monday without council approval of the resolution.

c.bessette@theday.com

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