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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    Norwich seeks $11.7 million from the state to revitalize its waterfront

    A new sign adorns the entrance to the Marina at American Wharf on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. New owners Patrick and Brittany Dwyer of Somers purchased the marina at Norwich Harbor in October and are working on renovations to be ready for boating season in spring. (Claire Bessette/The Day)
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    Norwich ― Now is the time to ask the state for a big investment in Norwich’s waterfront assets, city officials say, as they lobby for $11.7 million in state grants to make improvements from the harbor up the Yantic River.

    Hoping to ride the momentum of a new marina owner, city upgrades to the nearby waterfront park and a new Uncas Leap Heritage Park under construction on the Yantic River, city officials will now ask the state for $11.7 million to revitalize the city’s waterfront.

    The City Council Monday night agreed to submit a grant application seeking $11,715,769 from the state Community Investment Fund, created by Gov. Ned Lamont to assist distressed municipalities across the state with major projects.

    Kevin Brown, president of the Norwich Community Development Corp., presented the proposed package to the council Monday. The project would connect Norwich Harbor and the Marina at American Wharf and extend up the Yantic River along the existing riverfront heritage trail to the new Uncas Leap Heritage Park being constructed using $2.8 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act grant.

    “That’s the purpose of the Community Investment Fund grant,” Brown said. “It’s a slingshot for distressed communities into the future.”

    Brown said Norwich Public Utilities’ construction of a $200 million new sewage treatment plant that will greatly improve water quality and Norwich Harbor aesthetics adds a caveat to the city’s argument that this is the right time for the state to help Norwich with a big investment in its waterfront.

    The plan includes $7.8 million to assist new owners Patrick and Brittany Dwyer with their redevelopment of the Marina at American Wharf. The Somers couple purchased the marina in October and have started renovations and efforts to attract a new restaurant tenant. The Dwyers’ matching share in the grant request is $2.4 million.

    Brittany Dwyer said if the city obtains the grant, the money would speed up the Dwyers’ long-term renovation plans for the marina from their original five to 10 years to an estimated three to five years. Immediate work underway includes repairs to facilities, electrical and plumbing upgrades, painting and the securing of a restaurateur for the now-seasonal restaurant.

    The plan would renovate the restaurant into a year-round facility and restore the events tent removed from the grounds. The Dwyers also hope to reopen the long-shuttered ice cream shop on land the marina leases from the city north of Howard T. Brown Memorial Park.

    “We have a lot of interest in the restaurant,” she said Monday. “We hope to narrow it down and have the restaurant open by May.”

    When boaters return in spring, they will see a fresh look for marina facilities, docks and grounds, new signs and a new festival tent, she said. The couple plans a public grand reopening event for May or June.

    The grant money the city is seeking would address high-cost items, including replacing two decaying 30-year-old concrete docks and installing new fuel tanks.

    Brown told the council all the proposed improvements create economic development opportunities for the city “whether it is people coming in boats up the river, or people who want to come to the restaurant or come and have a wedding on the pad in the events tent, or in the permanent structure the Dwyers envision in the future. There’s an economic impact.”

    Norwich used $1.3 million in ARPA money to replace crumbling city-owned docks at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park. The $2.17 million Community Investment Fund request for Brown Park includes money to replace two other aging docks near the boat launch, with proposed matching amounts of $208,000 in public-private partnerships and $833,509 from other state grants.

    The Brown Park money includes a plan to build a splashpad on the overgrown area north of the ice cream shop building. The area once housed a popular miniature golf course but has been closed for years after a fire damaged the facility.

    The city also will ask for $619,500 in CIF grant money toward an overall $754,500 upgrade to the existing heritage trail that runs from Brown Park to Uncas Leap. Portions of the trail are along the Yantic River, and portions follow sidewalks where riverfront access is not possible. The grant would widen existing paved portions to 10 feet, add pavers to portions of the trail and replace old pavers in the Brown Park section of the trail.

    Rounding out the CIF grant request is $250,000 for planning and development to better connect the harbor area to downtown and $38,000 for environmental studies.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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