Norwich mayor urges council to support economic development proposals

Norwich – Mayor Peter Nystrom warned fellow members of the City Council Monday to “keep your weekends open” for council workshops on issues including reviving his proposed economic development bond, creating a charter revision commission and discussions on waterfront development.

Nystrom delivered his sixth State of the City address as mayor Monday, mixing a celebration of development accomplishments over the past year with calls for city leaders to work together on development issues in the year ahead.

“It should be noted that change through economic development is a long-term proposition that takes focused teamwork and dedication to implement and benefit from,” Nystrom said. “We have a talented team of professionals, passionate and dedicated leadership, a highly flexible and resourceful utility, and, a community ready to embrace change.”

In a party-line vote last August, the City Council rejected Nystrom’s proposal to forward an $8.47 million bond to voters in a November referendum. The bond funds would have been used to expand the $3.38 million downtown revitalization bond approved by voters in 2010 to development citywide.

On Monday, Nystrom called the bond proposal “unfinished business” and “an important missing piece” in improving the city’s economy.

“Ultimately, we must engage and include the voters in the city of Norwich in major future decisions,” Nystrom said. “Elected officials must never limit the future of the city. We must include the people who elected us, so I’m charging everyone on this council to roll up their sleeves to please get engaged.”

Nystrom also said he is working with the Norwich Community Development Corp. – which manages the downtown revitalization bond and would administer a new bond – to create a “full waterfront concept involving the entire harbor.” He offered no details but cited a long history in Norwich of public-private investment in the city.

Nystrom has been meeting with prospective purchasers of the Marina at American Wharf and said recently that a deal appears to be imminent between the private owner of the marina and a buyer.

In his review of the past year’s accomplishments, Nystrom made no mention of the federal indictments Nov. 8 of Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda, former Norwich utilities commission Chairman James Sullivan and three other officials with the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative on federal corruption charges for their roles in CMEEC’s hosting of lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby.

Bilda is on paid administrative leave and Assistant General Manager Chris LaRose is serving as acting general manager.

Nystrom did praise NPU for its role in assisting major development projects either well underway or in planning stages, including the $60 million renovation of the Ponemah Mill into 237 apartments with plans for added commercial development, the plan by a developer to build a 120-unit apartment complex on the grounds of the former Peachtree Apartment complex on the West Side, and a new plan to convert the former Hale Mill in Yantic into a hotel.

“Their ability to answer important questions about utility needs when a new developer visits our city has and will always be one of the most critical reasons why investors choose the city of Norwich,” Nystrom said of NPU.

Nystrom also acknowledged NCDC for creating and expanding the Foundry 66 shared workspace facility in the former Norwich Bulletin building at 66 Franklin St. NCDC recently opened the second floor to more entrepreneurial tenants and will host business classes later this month to entice business owners to move into vacant downtown storefronts.

NCDC also is a partner in Global City Norwich, which recently received a second-year $100,000 grant from Chelsea Groton Bank to promote the city’s ethnic diversity and expand minority-owned businesses downtown. Nystrom thanked Chelsea Groton Bank President Michael Rauh and NCDC President Robert Mills for their roles in the program.

Turning to city government, Nystrom said the recent revaluation of city property values is expected to show a nearly 6 percent increase in property values over the 2017 grand list, generating an additional $4.5 million in tax revenue. He said city departments are helping commercial property owners conduct environmental assessments using federal grant dollars, and a new assistant city planner scheduled to start work in February will allow the city to respond to applicants’ needs more efficiently.

“My office in coordination with NCDC, Norwich Public Utilities and other city department heads all participated in negotiations leading to many of these business opportunities,” Nystrom said of 2018 accomplishments, adding more announcements are expected in the near future.

c.bessette@theday.com

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