New London expected to purchase Crystal Avenue high-rises

The Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue in New London as seen from the sky Wednesday, May 11, 2005.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue in New London as seen from the sky Wednesday, May 11, 2005. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — The demolition of the Thames River Apartments can’t come soon enough for the city's administration.

Not only does Mayor Michael Passero not want the liability of owning three empty high-rise buildings, but he is also counting on the recently vacated property to add tax revenue where there was none.

A process is underway for the New London Housing Authority to sell the 15-acre property to the city, which will then explore selling or leasing the site to an outside entity.

Next month, the City Council is slated to consider the purchase and sale agreement with the authority for the property.

Under increasing pressure to abandon the federally subsidized apartment complex because of deferred maintenance and deteriorating conditions, the New London Housing Authority helped move out all remaining 124 low-income families.

The apartment buildings had been tax-exempt since they opened in 1967. The city hopes to capture some revenues linked with the expected uptick in activity and investment at nearby State Pier. The Connecticut Port Authority is investing more money into the deepwater port, which is also expected to host a range of activities related to the burgeoning offshore wind industry.

The state Port Authority is expected to name a new port operator later this year, and an offshore wind company, Deepwater Wind, has pledged a $5 million investment at the facility.

Positioned in the middle of an industrial zone, the Crystal Avenue property is one of the few large tracts of land available for development.

“It is anticipated that those 15 acres most likely will be used to support the port facility in one form or another,” Passero said.

The purchase price in the draft sales agreement is $185,000 and based on an appraisal of the property completed by the housing authority in 2017. That same appraisal determined that more than $5 million was needed in immediate repairs to sustain housing — out of reach for the cash-strapped housing authority.

That same appraisal lists the property at 9 acres and notes discrepancies in the property size listed in each of three different sources — the deed, the assessor’s field card and the New London Geographic Information System. The city determined the GIS to be accurate.

Whether the property is sold or leased, the city counts on it being a source of new revenue. The city will also have to negotiate to have the towers demolished, with an estimated cost that could approach $1 million, per the appraisal report. The city intends to have a developer fund the demolition. 

Passero said details of how the city will market the property are not finalized but said there is a possibility the city’s development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association, will take on that task.

The RCDA holds agreements with the city to market other city-owned properties, such as the Martin Center and Parcel J. The RCDA successfully negotiated an agreement with AR Builders for development of a residential complex at Parcel J, located at the corner of Bank and Howard streets.

The Housing Authority, meanwhile, is completing a lock-down at the facility, boarding up the first and second floors of the buildings and setting up barriers to block vehicles from entering the property, said Housing Authority Executive Director Kolisha Fiore.

The Housing Authority has assumed liability for the property until the closing. Passero said once the sale is completed, he wants that liability out of the city’s hands as quickly as possible.

“Having empty buildings is a scary thing. It’s important to get them down, whether it’s through a sale or lease,” Passero said.

Fiore said the sale of the property will allow the housing authority to concentrate its attention on its other properties — one federal and three state-subsidized properties — that house seniors and disabled residents.

While the Crystal Avenue high-rises are now vacated, Fiore said there is one resident still being put up at a hotel and waiting to finalize a lease on a new apartment. She said the housing authority will continue to perform checks of the property until the sale to the city is finalized.

Before it comes to a vote before the City Council, the proposed land purchase will be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission, something required by state statute.

g.smith@theday.com

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