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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    New London’s newest apartment complex a ‘learning opportunity’ for designers

    Vessel apartment complex Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at 174 Bank St. in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Neil Rubler, CEO of Vessel Technologies Inc., center, stands in a hallway and talks about the floors, shown below, while leading a tour of the Vessel apartment complex Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Neil Rubler, CEO of Vessel Technologies Inc., talks about the kitchen/living room area in one of the apartments while leading a tour of the Vessel apartment complex Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Kitchen and living room of the Vessel apartment complex at 174 Bank St. in New London, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    People taking a tour of the Vessel apartment complex stand near the stairwell for the five-story building Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Neil Rubler, CEO of Vessel Technologies Inc., third from right, talks about the outdoor walls that are ventilated rain screens while leading a tour of the Vessel apartment complex Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London ― A “prototype” Bank Street apartment complex likened to a first-generation smart phone is slated to begin accepting tenants next month, the project’s leader said Tuesday during a tour of the property.

    As Neil Rubler led a group of city officials and building trade specialists through the still-unfinished Vessel apartment building at 174 Bank St., the founder and chief executive officer for Vessel Technologies Inc., compared the cube-shaped structure to an “iPhone 1,” a device famous for its subsequent refinements.

    Rubler said the project required the investment of “tens of millions” of dollars in research and development money with the goal of creating an easily replicable housing complex that could be tweaked to meet the needs of a specific developer while still adhering to an overarching goal.

    Rubler said that goal is “to take on the affordable housing crisis and build quality workforce housing,” adding the Bank Street building is aimed squarely at the middle-class market.

    The Bank Street property will be managed by the Groton-based MOXIE management group, with apartments marketed at between $1,600 and $1,700 a month. The cost of utilities is included.

    Pre-lease notices were put out nearly a year ago with more than 100 inquiries submitted.

    Vessel uses a “panelized” construction process that entails building floors, ceilings and walls off-site. The materials are flattened, shipped and re-assembled at the construction location. Rubler said those procedures enable a shorter and less intrusive building period that can be easily duplicated.

    The five-story complex includes 30 one-bedroom apartments accessed via an exterior staircase constructed of floor grates. Rubler said the open-air design was selected for its fire-protection attributes and to encourage tenants to spend time in outside common areas.

    Rooftop solar arrays will deliver power to the 525-square-foot apartments as part of a net-zero carbon emission configuration. Ventilated rain screens behind corridor panels prevent water infiltration.

    The apartments feature frosted glass front doors and a lone window located in each rear bedroom area. The white-walled rooms are illuminated by strips of color-customizable LED lights ringing fabric ceilings.

    A kitchen/living room area includes an adjustable height sink and portable dishwasher, oven/air fryer and induction cooking plates. Refrigerators are yet to be installed. An ultra-violet lighting system is designed to bathe the kitchen area with sanitizing rays.

    Separate shower, sink and bathroom alcoves are tucked along walls leading to a 10 by 14 foot bedroom with a large window ― the main source of natural light for the spaces. Speakers are embedded in off-white walls, which, because they cannot be drilled or hammered into, require adhesive strips for hanging items like pictures or hooks.

    Rubler said his company’s “smart tech” operating system, which can be accessed through a phone app, allows for tenants to monitor their energy consumption.

    “A learning opportunity”

    The complex, which broke ground last spring, was initially set to open in October, but Vessel officials opted to extend the construction process.

    “We had two choices: Move as quickly as we could or take a little longer and learn as we went to refine the art of building apartments like this,” Rubler said. “If we accelerated too quickly, we’d have missed a lot. This was a learning opportunity.”

    Vessel broke ground last year on a five-story, 70-unit complex in Cheshire and gained approval for a two-building proposal in Rocky Hill that would include 96 apartments.

    The New London building site, which abuts the Custom House Maritime Museum, had been vacant for decades before city officials approached Vessel about the apartment plan.

    Vessel purchased the property for $225,000 in February 2022. The City Council later approved a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the firm providing the company an estimated 25.1% discount in tax payments to the city over 20 years.

    Rubler said the site itself proved “challenging” with its small footprint, steep elevation changes and its location in a flood zone prone to high winds. He called the final product “revolutionary,” but far from perfect.

    “I see 50 things I don’t like,” he said

    The complex is still waiting for delivery of electrical generators and other items need to be completed, including upper-story railings, said Jonathan Buck, Vessel’s director of franchise sales and development. A construction fence and caution cones still surround the site.

    Bob Wiedenmann, president of the Sunwood Development company in Wallingford, was one of several Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Eastern Connecticut members to take Tuesday’s tour.

    Wiedenmann, who said his company specializes in “traditional” building and remodeling work, called the Vessel process an intriguing one.

    “It takes some getting used to, but I like the long-range vision and the efficiency of construction,” he said.

    j.penney@theday.com

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