State pledges $2 million to demolish New London high rises

New London — The state will contribute $2 million toward the demolition and cleanup of the vacant high rises on Crystal Avenue.

The funding is slated to be approved on Tuesday by the state Bond Commission and represents a step toward development of what Mayor Michael Passero called “a crucial property in the heart of an industrial and commercial zone adjacent to rail, shipping, and the interstate highway.” He expects the city will enjoy tax revenue where there was none previously.  

The city has marketed the property as complementary to the nearby State Pier facility and has lobbied for a fair share of the economic benefits generated with the increased activity at the pier associated with the offshore wind industry.

“This represents the governor and his administration and state legislators giving New London an opportunity to independently participate in this expansion of State Pier with its own asset," Passero said.

The 12-acre site at 40 Crystal Ave. is the former home of Thames River Apartments, a 124-unit federally subsidized housing complex where conditions had become so bad through the years that residents were moved out last year. The city later bought the property for $185,000 from the New London Housing Authority and adjusted the zoning to better reflect its commercial and industrial surroundings.

The state funding announcement is likely to ease concerns of some City Council members who only narrowly approved the purchase of the property and voiced concerns about future demolition costs and expenses associated with asbestos removal from the three apartment buildings.

While only about two-thirds of the property is usable, Passero said it represents land that can be marketed internationally to companies associated with the offshore wind industry.

“I am thrilled to work with Mayor Michael Passero and his staff who are taking the kinds of bold steps that are necessary to secure the city’s future economic stability,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement.

Lamont called the funding “an important step toward the kind of economic innovation that’s going to propel our state forward.”

“New London and the state are collaborating to usher in a new era of growth and prosperity as the addition of the offshore wind industry to the city’s economic base propels the city to new prominence. These kinds of partnerships represent how state and local governments can work together to help both succeed,” Lamont said in the statement.

The city had applied for the funding using demolition estimates from Connecticut Waste Processing Materials LLC, owned by Manafort Brothers Inc. — the only bidder on the project. The company is nearing completion of a solid waste management and recycling facility nearby.

Passero said he expects negotiations for the contract on the demolition to start soon. The city’s development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association, is handling those talks and marketing the property.

A timeline for demolition is not set, but Passero said “we’re expect to do this as quickly as possible.”

The property has been tax-exempt since the low-income apartments opened in 1967.

g..smith@theday.com

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