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From creating a new business park to luring cannabis businesses, NCDC plans busy year

Norwich — From launching a new revitalization program to starting a second business park and pursuing the cannabis industry, the 2022 calendar is filling up for the Norwich Community Development Corp.

NCDC President Kevin Brown outlined the top priorities as the agency's ABCs — A for American Rescue Plan, B for business park and C for cannabis lead the alphabet — during Thursday’s annual meeting.

The board of directors also elected new board members and its first female board chairwoman: Rebecca Alberts, co-owner of These Guys Brewing, which hosted the meeting.

The 2022 calendar is marked with key dates, Brown said, starting with Feb. 3, the opening of state licensing for cannabis growing and retail licenses. Businesses that locate in Norwich, a city disproportionately affected by the so-called war on drugs, have an upper hand at landing a highly competitive state license.

NCDC hosted a packed-room forum on the new state law in November. Norwich will host the state’s first technical assistance session Feb. 18, and Brown said interest is even stronger. He speculated recreational cannabis businesses could be a big boost to the city’s tax base.

“We are in a position to work with the right partner with qualifications and the space, and probably will see a retail establishment or two,” Brown said.

NCDC has received $575,000 thus far from Norwich Public Utilities and $740,000 from the city to plan a second business park on 384 acres, with 184 buildable acres, of former farmland and woodlands along Interstate 395, Exit 18. NCDC has an option on the property with a purchase price of $3.55 million and is seeking three major federal grants to start work.

First is the Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant, with the narrative for the grant application due to the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region by Feb. 14. The federal application is due March 14. Dubbed Business Park North, the project is part of a SeCTer application package. SeCTer Executive Director Paul Whitescarver told the NCDC board Thursday that the business park is among six projects likely to be submitted for the grant.

NCDC also will pursue a U.S. Department of Transportation Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, grant for the planned roadway network and a federal DOT Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, grant for high-speed transmission lines for the park.

Project real estate consultant Henry Resnikoff said NCDC will apply in early February for local inland wetlands permits for a proposed redesigned exit ramp with a dedicated lane to the property. Once wetlands permits are approved, NCDC will seek approval for master plan for the park, he said.

“If everything goes right, we anticipate hopefully being under construction approximately the middle of 2023 and delivering the first land base in 2024,” Resnikoff said. “That’s not very far out. Our timeline is three to seven years for buildout.”

The City Council in fall allotted $2 million in the city’s American Rescue Plan dollars to NCDC to create a citywide revitalization program, similar to a former city-bonded downtown program. The program offers matching grants for building code corrections, technical assistance and preparing vacant space for occupancy, called a vanilla box. NCDC plans to hire a general contractor to review applications and oversee various projects.

With $2 million, Brown estimated seven to nine projects could be completed.

Application forms will be posted online Feb. 11, and applications will be accepted starting Feb. 14. On March 14, NCDC officials will start screening applications. Brown said he hopes the City Council will consider a second allocation with the city’s next $14 million ARP grant expected in May for applications that do not receive initial funding.

Global City Norwich, funded since 2017 with grants from Chelsea Groton Bank Foundation, plans to host working labs for entrepreneurs, host and support outdoor festivals and the downtown First Friday arts events and work on its own downtown vanilla box program. Global City received a $40,000 grant from the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation to develop move-in-ready vanilla box spaces.

Global City liaison Suki Lagrito said she will present the 2022 Global City Norwich plan to the Chelsea Groton Foundation for approval in February.

Lagrito thanked Chelsea Groton and departing NCDC board member Michael Rauh, president of the bank and the bank foundation, for the vision and financial support to launch the Global City Norwich program.

As his departing gift to NCDC Thursday, Rauh presented a giant check for the latest $50,000 Chelsea Groton Foundation grant to Global City Norwich.

“Every time we have an outdoor festival, every time people stand under the lights in downtown, taking selfies in awe, that’s the work of Michael,” Lagrito said. “Every time a new entrepreneur makes a connection, and a space is filled in downtown through the Global City Norwich program, that’s Michael’s vision.”

c.bessette@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects Rebecca Alberts' name.

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