U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney tours Norwich downtown ARPA grant recipients
Norwich ― Starting at the former Elks Club at one end of Main Street and ending on Broadway in front of City Hall, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney got a closeup look Thursday of how the city has awarded $1.37 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act grants to support economic development.
Inside the former Elks Club building, the historic Greek Revival home of John F. Slater, owner/developer Amit Patel gave a tour of the future Hotel Chelsea, a boutique hotel with 24 guest rooms, a meeting room and banquet hall, catering kitchen and bar.
Patel hopes to open the guest rooms and meeting room by the end of this year. The second phase shortly after will include the kitchen and banquet hall and refurbishing the old Elks Club bar will comprise the third phase. Several rooms and suites, to be priced at $100 to $500 per night, already have king-size beds, completed bathrooms, mirrors and other wall hangings. Hallways are painted with broad horizontal black stripes.
Joining Courtney and his Second District Director Ayanti Grant on the tour were Norwich Community Development Corp. President Kevin Brown, City Council President Pro Tempore Joseph DeLucia, City Manager John Salomone and Director of Planning and Development Deanna Rhodes.
Patel told the group he expects the hotel to be successful as a family-run, independent, non-chain operation, especially “once Preston Riverwalk gets going.”
Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment is scheduled to develop the nearly 400-acre former Norwich Hospital property in Preston once that town completes the environmental cleanup.
The hotel received a $165,283 ARPA grant through NCDC for building code corrections in the former Elks building. Patel estimated the hotel development cost at $450,000.
Standing in one hotel room, Brown asked Courtney to look out the large front window to the former YMCA across the street. Mattern Construction of Baltic plans to move its headquarters into the building and create restaurant or space, including a possible brew pub and sandwich/coffee shop. Brown told Courtney the city is seeking an $850,000 federal environmental cleanup brownfields grant for the YMCA project.
After walking past the new Franklin Square roundabout, Courtney donned a face mask to enter the dank, dark former Reid & Hughes building. David McCarthy, founder and president of Norwalk-based Heritage Housing Inc., which co-owns the Wauregan Apartments across Main Street, described Heritage’s plans to purchase the Reid & Hughes and develop 17 market-rate apartments and 2,000 square feet of retail space.
McCarthy said he expects to close on the purchase within the next two weeks. The city will contribute a $300,000 ARPA grant to the renovations, Brown said. The city also applied for a $500,000 grant through the state Community Investment Fund to help fund the project.
McCarthy said often, the Wauregan must turn away potential tenants at the income-restricted affordable housing apartments and looks forward to being able to steer them to the market-rate units across the street. The project will seek state and federal historic tax credits to finance part of the project.
Castle Church Pastor Adam Bowles met the group following the Reid & Hughes stop and walked with it to the new Jubilee Park and mural on the church wall that honors prominent 19th-century Black residents, James L. Smith and Sarah Harris Fayerweather.
The city allocated $50,000 to the Yale Design Group to study further public improvements to lower Broadway from Main Street to Union Square in front of City Hall. Brown described the plan to develop the Jubilee Park in front of the mural and create a small, terraced park at the city-owned lot at the side of the building at 59 Broadway, where another large new mural will be painted soon.
The city has allocated $961,000 in ARPA grant money to two building renovation projects along lower Broadway and has applied for $10.1 million in Community Investment Fund grants to complete the Yale Design Group’s proposed public upgrades and make structural repairs to the Reliance Health and Norwich Arts Center buildings on the block.
After the tour, Courtney said Norwich has made “great decisions” on how to use the ARPA money to improve housing, support private investment and make public improvements. He said naming NCDC as the lead agency was “really smart,” because the agency can maintain close contact with developers and building owners in the city.
Brown said the downtown improvements should become visible very soon.
“Come see us in eight months, and there will be a business in there, a business in there and a business in there,” Brown said, pointing to now-vacant space on lower Broadway.