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Norwich takes ownership of defunct former YMCA building

Norwich — The city has taken ownership of the defunct and abandoned former YMCA building on Main Street and plans to clean the property in preparation to market it, before or after demolishing the concrete structure.

The YMCA closed suddenly in 2009 and lost its tax-exempt status. Since then, the abandoned building and its defunct owner, YMCA of Southeastern Conn. Inc., had accrued more than $1.5 million in back taxes, interest and fees. With no one taking care of the property, the city also over the years has been forced to board up broken windows and doors to expel vagrants, and cut the grass, weeds and brush.

After securing a judge’s order of strict foreclosure, the city recorded the transaction Monday in city land records. The nearly 50,000-square-foot building sits on 0.64 acre at 337-341 Main St.

City Manager John Salomone said Tuesday that city officials had discussed with the City Council six months ago the possibility of taking the property. The city had been reluctant to take the property and assume the environmental cleanup and demolition costs.

“It really was the only way to go forward with anything,” he said Tuesday. “We had kind of taken responsibility for it indirectly, cutting the lawn and trimming the shrubs. Technically, we didn’t have authority to do that, but it was an eyesore. It was an orphan property.”

The property at the junction of Main, East Main and North Main streets is considered a key gateway to downtown from routes 12 and 2, direct routes to the region’s two casinos and to potential future development of the former Norwich Hospital in Preston.

Taking the property now could be less of a financial risk for the city, with nearly $30 million in federal American Rescue Plan grant money.

Salomone said he is exploring whether the property would be eligible for ARP spending.

City Director of Planning Deanna Rhodes said the city has allocated $3,500 in its federal Environmental Protection Agency brownfield assessment grant for a phase one study of the property history and $62,000 for limited phase two assessment of the types and extent of potential environmental contamination. The money will be used in part to remove an underground fuel tank and study the soil surrounding the tank for potential leaks, she said.

The environmental work is expected to begin within the next two weeks, she said.

For the long-term disposition of the property, the city could enlist the Norwich Community Development Corp. or city Redevelopment Agency to oversee bids either to gauge interest in redevelopment of the building or for reuses of the property after the building is demolished.

Salomone said he is not yet ready to say for sure the building must be torn down. But it has been vandalized over the years, and has open and broken windows, rain damage and mold.

“It has been misunderstood by many people that the city has been the owner,” Rhodes said. “We finally have it in our hands, and we can take care of the issues of it being a blighted building and an underused site. I think it’s an opportunity to revision our downtown.”


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