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Norwich Mayor Nystrom to deliver his sixth State of the City address Monday

Norwich — Mayor Peter Nystrom will give his sixth State of the City address Monday, but rather than the task becoming easier with experience, Nystrom said he struggled with it more this time.

Nystrom said several well-publicized major developments are ongoing, including the transformation of the Ponemah Mill in Taftville into apartments and ancillary development, the newly approved plan to convert the former Hale Mill in Yantic into a hotel and a plan to build a new 120-unit apartment complex at the site of the former Peachtree Apartment complex on the West Side.

And rather than recite accomplishments and offer statistics from the various city departments on their activities — 900 new building permits issued in the past six months, for example — Nystrom said he wants his address to stress the need for city leaders to work together to take advantage of what could be a limited window of economic development opportunity.

Nystrom will deliver the speech following a general public comment period at Monday’s City Council meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

The Republican mayor said he will challenge the politically divided City Council — four Republicans, three Democrats — along with city agencies and private developers to work together to promote the city’s three new federally approved Opportunity Zones, where investors can realize federal tax breaks for funding qualifying projects, and to improve the city waterfront.

That challenge likely will include a second attempt at expanding the $3.38 million downtown revitalization bond, which city voters approved in 2010 and is managed by the Norwich Community Development Corp., with a new bond proposal for development citywide. The council rejected Nystrom’s proposed $8.47 million economic development bond last summer, with opponents citing the high total, lack of information and unnecessary rush to get it to voters for a referendum in November.

“It’s really critical we all work together to bring investment here,” Nystrom said Thursday. “That window is going to close.”

Nystrom will need bipartisan support for a new bond proposal, as the measure would need approval by at least five of the seven council members. On Aug. 20, the four council Republicans, including Nystrom, voted in favor, while the three Democrats voted against the bond.

Democratic Alderman Samuel Browning declined to comment Thursday, deferring until after Nystrom delivers the speech and offers specifics on a new bond proposal, except to say he hopes there is “better planning” for the proposal.

Nystrom rejected criticism that council members were not given enough opportunity for input but said this year, council workshops will be held to discuss economic development proposals, including the bond proposal, Opportunity Zones and ideas for waterfront improvements. The first workshop will be held in February.

City officials have been studying the new Opportunity Zones to be ready in case developers or potential investors call with questions. Nystrom said city leaders have attended three webinars and hosted a regional workshop on the Opportunity Zone program. Norwich, New London and Groton were approved for zones last year. But with only $1.3 billion allocated for the federal investments nationwide, Nystrom expects the money to run out fast.

“We’ve been really working to understand that better, so when a developer calls, we know the ins and outs of the program. We know the opportunities are limited,” Nystrom said.

Promoting the Opportunity Zones is part of Nystrom's larger theme of seeking alternatives to state funding for the city, given the ongoing state budget deficit and another anticipated tough year for state funding.

But city leaders likely will seek state assistance for Norwich Harbor improvements through the Connecticut Port Authority, Nystrom said. City leaders are working with a designer to create a Norwich waterfront concept plan that is expected to lead to proposals for waterfront improvements and a request to the port authority for funding.

Nystrom pledged Thursday that by the end of his current term as mayor — in three years — a new location will be chosen for the city boat launch at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park. The current one is in a cramped spot in the parking lot at Brown Park and is considered a hazard to pedestrians. The boat launch also is closed during prime weekends and holidays for major events at the park, including a Memorial Day weekend carnival, Juneteenth, July 4 fireworks and A Taste of Italy in early September.

The boat launch has been targeted for relocation for the past several years. Former Mayor Deberey Hinchey worked on a plan to move the boat launch down the Thames River to Shipping Street but the plan fell through after state officials deemed the area a high-hazard flood zone.

“I’m committed to getting a new boat launch by the end of this term,” Nystrom said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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