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Bank Street developer renews commitment to renovate burned building

New London — Owners of the Bank Street building damaged by a fire on Wednesday say plans for a historic renovation have become more complicated but remain on track.

High Tide Capital, which purchased the building in August, said the response by the city and its fire department to the blaze at 133-137 Bank St. has served to solidify its interest in investing in the downtown.

“Because of the response, the damage was quite minimal and contained exclusively to the rear quarter and top floor,” High Tide Capital said in a statement to The Day.

“The most important thing is no one has gotten hurt, be it from the fire safety folks or anyone working in the building at the time. Everyone is thankful for that," the statement said. "This is obviously a setback but our plans will not change at all."

The fire was first reported late Wednesday morning and video from onlookers shows the roof ablaze and thick black smoke billowing from the 120-year-old building. A construction crew was working on the fourth floor at the time. City records show permits were in place for the work.

The building, the former Jason’s Furniture that most recently housed an indoor flea market, was vacant at the time of the fire and in transition. The new development under construction is to be known as Riverbank, advertised as 16 luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments with harbor views, high ceilings, large windows, hardwood floors, granite counter tops and room for a restaurant or retail space at street level.

The plans for the rehabilitation project include a new roof and new windows throughout the building. Work crews were expected to be back on site Thursday to assess damage and mitigate some of the water damage.

High Tide Capital credited the fire department, fire marshal’s office and building department for quick action and Mayor Michael Passero for timely correspondences about the unfolding situation.

“As a building owner in town, it's reassuring to have resources available when disasters like this happen,” High Tide said.

Before the fire, the building's owners estimated it would take about nine months to complete the project, even as work continues on a sister project at the Manwaring Building at 223-229 State St. The timeline has not yet changed.

New London Fire Marshal Vernon Skau said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. He said there was ongoing work in the building at the time of the fire and propane heaters on the fourth floor. There was also temporary electrical lines in the building to allow for use of equipment and lights.

New London Fire Chief Tom Curcio credited the staffing level, quick response and knowledge of both the firefighters and emergency dispatchers as the reasons the fire was contained mostly to the area where it started. The department has 16 firefighters on call at any given time and ability to call on mutual aid for occasions such as Wednesday’s fire, when more ladder trucks were brought in to not only fight the fire but protect surrounding buildings.

The building where the fire occurred is adjacent to both Right Path Organic Cafe and apartments at 147 Bank. St. on one side and a stalled rehab project at 123 Bank St., the site of the former New London Antiques Center, on the other.   

“Although it was vacant, we didn’t want it to spread next door," Curcio said. "It was a great save.”

Curcio said the last major fire in downtown that he recalls was at 130 State St., the Bacon Building, in 2013. While the damage caused by a fire that began on the fourth floor was severe, firefighters had stopped the blaze from spreading to adjacent buildings. That fire displaced 20 residents and two businesses, including Monica's State Street Diner and Zambala Grocery.

g.smith@theday.com

(Scott Ritter/The Day)
(Scott Ritter/The Day)

The developer says it remains committed to the project at 133-137 Bank St., where a fire late Wednesday morning damaged part of the structure.

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