Ideas pitched for New London's Crystal Avenue property

The Thames River Apartments in New London are seen Nov. 25, 2016. The high-rises have been closed and the city has received developers' proposals for the site. (Tim Cook/The Day)
The Thames River Apartments in New London are seen Nov. 25, 2016. The high-rises have been closed and the city has received developers' proposals for the site. (Tim Cook/The Day)

New London — Two entities, including a trash hauling company building a transfer station in the city, have pitched ideas for use of the former Thames River Apartments property on Crystal Avenue.

The city is in the process of buying the 12-acre parcel from the New London Housing Authority and seeking viable proposals to turn the formerly tax-exempt property into a revenue generator.

Two proposals were submitted in response to the city’s request last month for expressions of interest. The city has declined, however, to release names of the respondents or proposals for the property, claiming an exemption under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.

The Day obtained a copy of one proposal by Connecticut Waste Processing Materials LLC and Manafort Brothers, a construction and demolition services firm, who are nearing completion of the solid waste management and recycling facility on Fourth Street, close to the Crystal Avenue property.

CWPM has proposed acquiring the Crystal Avenue property from the city, demolishing the apartment buildings and using the land primarily for bulk shipping and storage facilities, partially to support its own business.

CWPM says a portion of the site would be used by DRVN Enterprises Inc. DRVN currently leases space at State Pier to store salt stockpiles and would supplement their current operations at the Crystal Avenue site, the proposal states.

CWPM and Manafort Brothers "are a well-established demolition, site and abatement contractors with projects throughout New England. Our growing presence in New London and the opportunity presented in this project, allows us to use our unique core businesses to continue our expansion and address the sizable financial and environmental challenges of the Crystal Avenue property,” said Jason Manafort, a principal in CWPM, in a statement for The Day.

“With the impending completion of the multi-million Fourth Street development, CWPM will continue to expand, invest in New London and to seek out mutually beneficial opportunities,” Manafort said.

Based on its own walkthrough of the aging high-rises that remain on site, CWPM claims the $1 million cost of abatement and demolition of the site is a severe underestimate. CWPM puts the cost at $1.75 million and as a result has asked the city in its proposal to contribute $800,000, perhaps through a combination of grants, to offset the cost of asbestos abatement and demolition fees, said Gordon Videll, who represents CWPM.

The city’s estimate of cleanup and demolition costs was taken from an estimate provided to the New London Housing Authority in 2016.

Videll said the CWPM is one of the city’s leading commercial developers and “hopes to continue to expand its footprint, bring jobs and increase the tax base for New London.”

“Given the location, size and scope of this project, CWPM is easily the best developer for this project,” Videll said. “The only other conceivable bidder would be the State for some future use which would be difficult to justify given the need to expand private development and taxes.”

A team, composed of Mayor Michael Passero, Renaissance City Development Association Executive Director Peter Davis and city Development and Planning Director Felix Reyes, is expected to review the submissions.

When it advertised for expressions of interest, the city’s priority was securing a tax revenue generator. The site was marketed as complementary to the nearby State Pier facility, which is expected to undergo upgrades thanks to an infusion of millions of dollars in recently approved state funding.

“The best use of the property is to enhance the port operations, which is land constrained,” Passero said. “We want to see the maximum return in the form of tax revenue.”

Passero declined to comment on any specifics of the two proposals but said the high-rises on the site, which had provided federally subsidized housing for more than 300 people, remain a liability for the city. The residents moved out earlier this year and were issued housing vouchers under a Housing Authority initiative.

The City Council approved the purchase of the property last month for $185,000 but have yet to close on it. School buses are now being parked on site thanks to an agreement signed by Student Transportation of America, the city and Housing Authority.

Passero said the city will explore possible lease or sale of the property and work toward either a development agreement or purchase and sales agreement, depending on the type of proposal.

He said there is still the option of soliciting more proposals, if needed.

g.smith@theday.com

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