Norwich, New London, Preston to receive $19 million in state grants
A second Norwich business park, a New London community center and improvements to Poquetanuck Village in Preston were the recipients of $19 million in state grants Tuesday through the Community Investment Fund 2030.
The local approvals were among 28 grants totaling $98.5 million approved by the Community Investment Fund Board Tuesday and will be forwarded to the State Bond Commission for approval.
Gov. Ned Lamont created the fund with $875 million to be allocated over 10 years to 55 qualifying municipalities, including Norwich, New London, Groton, Ledyard and Montville. The fund is designed to boost economic development and fund capital projects in traditionally under-served communities across the state.
The Norwich Community Development Corp. received the second-largest overall grant with $11.3 million to fund 2,700 feet of a new access road into the 384-acre second business park in Occum. NCDC President Kevin Brown said the money will pay to build the road and install utilities from Route 97 near the Interstate 395 Exit 18 ramp to an intersection with Canterbury Turnpike.
NCDC also has applied for a $15.9 million federal U.S. Department of Transportation grant to develop the road, including a proposed dedicated off ramp from Exit 18 into the business park.
Brown called the CIF approval “a big lift” to get the so-called Business Park North off the ground. NCDC purchased the 17 parcels in the Occum area that run north of I-395 in Occum in December for $3.55 million. Neighbors have objected to the proposed business park master plan, which was defeated by the City Council in February, but the land already is zoned for commercial and planned development.
“Now that we have an entitled, zoned, owned and funded piece of terrain, we need to start aggressively, actively marketing it,” Brown said. “We wanted to be able to deliver the first parcel in the last quarter of 2024. Certainly, this helps give that impetus.”
Brown and Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom thanked local legislators who supported NCDC’s application and helped create the fund financially needy municipalities.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our city, for our tax base, job growth and help us answer the question: ‘how do we pay for our schools?’” Nystrom said, “because they are linked. I hope people understand that.”
Neighbors vehemently opposed the business park master plan ultimately rejected by the City Council. State Rep. Derell Wilson, D-Norwich, a former alderman, said in a news release that he supported the CIF grant for the business park road for economic development and to attract investment in the city.
Wilson urged city officials to continue to work with the neighbors “to build a park that works for all.”
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, whose district includes Norwich, said the new business park is needed to expand the Norwich tax base and bring in new jobs.
“We've seen our old manufacturing facilities, mills, turned into housing, which we need,” Osten said in the news release. “Now we need new, modern facilities for new, modern manufacturing.”
New London grant completes funding for community center
New London is to receive $7.2 million from the investment fund for the construction of a projected $40 million community center at Fort Trumbull. The long-awaited center will offer a space for recreational activities; rooms for educational and community use; and house the city's recreation and youth affairs departments.
The city already had $35 million for the project, including the $30 million bond approved previously by the City Council, federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and state grants. In January, the city approved the project’s first contract totaling $30 million for infrastructure costs but doubt remained on where the remaining funds for the overall project would come from.
Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said the project is now fully funded, but the city will continue to raise funds to leverage the bond money. He said the $7.2 million grant will go towards the construction of the project.
Reyes said as someone who grew up in the city, the community center is easily one of the greatest projects in his professional career. He said as a director the hardest part was keeping up with the rising costs of the project due to inflation. For the past two years, the city worked to keep the budget for the building at $30 million.
New London’s Democrat state legislators, Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, and state Reps. Christine Conley, D-Groton, and Anthony Nolan, D-New London, issued a press release Tuesday celebrating the approval of funds.
"It's wonderful to hear that the Community Investment Fund is supporting this important project, which is going to benefit the entire New London community," Marx said in the release. "A new and improved home for recreational and youth affairs’ needs is going to allow many more residents access to helpful resources.”
Mayor Michael Passero said he is grateful to the local delegation for working hard on this and for all the support from Hartford, specifically from Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and state Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
“People in the city have been without an indoor recreation facility since the early 1980s when the YCMA pulled out,” Passero said. “A pool, a gymnasium, this facility will provide the community with indoor recreation we’ve been lacking.”
Passero said contractors are currently working on preparing the site and are waiting for a final state environmental permit to start construction. The building is expected to be finished in November 2024.
Preston grant to design Poquetanuck Village plan
Preston town officials were excited to learn the town received approval for a $400,000 grant to pay for design and engineering work for the planned Poquetanuck Village traffic calming project. The plan calls for creating a village atmosphere for the historic section of town now used as a speedway between routes 2 and 12.
Preston has received preliminary approval for a $3 million Local Transportation Capital Improvements Program grant for construction of the proposed improvements, but lacked the funding for design and engineering work.
“It seems like everything is lining up for this project to happen so that it will have no impact on the local taxpayers,” Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said Tuesday.
The project will connect Preston Community Park, the Tri-Town Trail off Route 117 and Poquetanuck Village. The main plan includes a 10-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle path through the park that would connect to a 5-foot-wide new sidewalk through the village along Route 2A, with period lighting and decorative signage. Lined crosswalks are planned at certain spots on Route 2A.
The road itself will be narrowed to slow traffic. A large square with a different pavement material and color, is planned in the roadway at the Schoolhouse Road intersection to call attention to the busy intersection. Flashing caution signs are planned to warn drivers of the village crosswalks and intersections.
First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier thanked the town, Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and state legislators for helping secure the grant.
“It’s nice when all the pieces to the puzzle come together,” Allyn-Gauthier said. “A lot of hard work went into this.”
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, whose district includes Preston, said the Poquetanuck Village project received widespread support from the town, the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes, the Tri-Town Trail Association and local business owners and residents.
Somers said the project, “will help Preston realize its vision for a safer, more walkable village.”