New London begins marketing Crystal Avenue property

New London — The city is collaborating with its development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association, to market a property that for decades had housed low-income families.

The RCDA will act as the city’s agent to secure an agreement with a developer willing to transform the Thames River Apartments complex on Crystal Avenue into a revenue generator for the city.

The RCDA on Aug. 10 published a request for “expressions of interest” for the 12-acre property, looking to solicit development firms and attract potential buyers interested in taking the property “as is.”

The property, not yet owned by the city, is home to three empty 50-year-old high-rise apartment buildings. The estimated cost for demolition and abatement of the property is $1 million.

The property is being marketed as complementary to the nearby State Pier facility — one of only three deepwater ports in Connecticut. The state-owned pier recently has become the target of an infusion of state and private funds in anticipation of an uptick in activity there, including work for offshore wind projects.

The state has pledged $15 million for upgrades at State Pier and Block Island Wind Farm developer Deepwater Wind has promised another $15 million as it prepares to situate a portion of its operations there.

The assessed value of the apartment buildings is $5.5 million, city records show. Likely attractions for would-be developers is the proximity to Interstate 95 and a dedicated freight rail line.

“Residential, commercial recreation and non-profit uses will not be considered” for the property, the request for ideas reads.

A deadline for submissions is Sept. 13. A project team composed of RCDA staff and representatives from the city’s Office of Development and Planning will review submissions and select firms for interviews.

The city is expected to buy the property for $185,000 in an arrangement with the current owner, the New London Housing Authority. The City Council is expected to vote on a purchase and sales agreement with the Housing Authority on Monday, an authorization for the mayor to close on the property.

The idea of the city purchasing the property dates to at least 2016, when the city and RCDA signed an agreement with the Housing Authority. At the time, it looked as though there was a replacement site for the Thames River Apartment residents. But the idea of constructing a new 124-unit development off Cedar Grove Avenue never panned out.

Mayor Michael Passero said the city has been the expected buyer ever since and throughout the Housing Authority’s application to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for disposition of the property.

He said the RCDA’s responsibilities in marketing the property are in line with the process followed for properties such as Parcel J, in which the RCDA “used its expertise to negotiate a development agreement.” AR Builders, the chosen developer, now has plans for a large residential development at that site and construction on that project could start as early as this year.

The Crystal Avenue property still is zoned residential and the city must first apply to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a zone change — likely to commercial/industrial to fit in with the surrounding area.

g.smith@theday.com

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