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    Friday, June 14, 2024

    New London church collapse property piques developer interest

    Brian Spader, with New London Public Works, removes a barricade Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, in the area of the former First Congregational Church in New London. The church collapsed on Jan. 25, and crews were preparing to open State Street for the first time since the collapse. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London ― City officials are not counting on the owners of the rubble-strewn First Congregational Church property to clear the site on their own, but rather expect that work will be required as part of any sale of the grounds.

    Mayor Michael Passero, whose upper-floor City Hall office includes a clear view of the piles of debris that once made-up the historic church at 66 Union St., said on Thursday there’s been “plenty of interest” in the property by private parties in the months since the church was demolished following a steeple collapse in January.

    The church and property were purchased by Engaging Heaven Ministries in 2015 for $250,000. Though Passero said he is not in regular contact with ministry representatives, he said the property has garnered private sector attention.

    “I understand more than one developer has reached out about that property,” he said. “I expect it’ll be sold as is and, as part of a sale, the new owner would be responsible for remediating the site and clearing out the rubble.”

    Attempts to reach Engaging Heaven officials on Thursday at the group’s Florida headquarters were unsuccessful.

    Any sale would require a buyer to pay off a lien placed on the property in February by the city as part of its efforts to recoup the nearly $250,000 it spent in the aftermath of the steeple collapse.

    Ministry founder James Levesque previously said the city would be fully reimbursed for its costs. In a statement on an Engaging Heaven fundraising page, Levesque said donations are needed to “cover the disaster, to clear the rubble, and of course, we need the finances to construct another Church building.”

    Fire Marshal Vernon Skau on Thursday said a report on the cause of the Jan. 25 steeple collapse is not yet complete.

    The 0.65-acre Union Street property, ringed with fencing and yellow caution tape printed with “God At Work” slogans, sits in the city’s Central Business District 1, which restricts street-level property use to commercial operations, but allows residential units on upper floors.

    City Director of Economic Development and Planning Felix Reyes said his office has fielded calls from curious developers, though he’s unaware of any purchase deal in the works.

    He said redevelopment of the church property would require an atypical approach.

    “Any developer would have to pay off the lien and mortgage for what, essentially, would be treated as a brownfield site,” Reyes said. “And it wouldn’t be just a ground-up build, because the property would need to be cleaned up. But that is a sizable lot in a very appealing area right in the heart of the central business district.”

    j.penney@theday.com

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