Malloy looks on as Norwich Hospital deal is signed

Preston – Town and tribal leaders signed copies of the newly approved Property Disposition and Development Agreement during a public signing ceremony Wednesday at the former Norwich Hospital property, one day after voters approved selling the property to the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.

Preston voters overwhelmingly approved the 150-page agreement Tuesday, 813 to 137, and the Preston Redevelopment Agency minutes later endorsed the Mohegans' $200 to $600 million plan to transform the abandoned Norwich Hospital into a sports, entertainment and recreational resort over the next several years.

Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown, also chairman of the MTGA management board, referred to the Mohegan “trail of life,” and said the agreement harkens back to an agreement 400 years ago, when Sachem Uncas granted land on the east bank of the Thames River to Jonathan Brewster for a trading post to benefit both tribe and settlers. Brown said the tribe is proud to be part of the three-way agreement with the state and town.

“We are equally proud as a tribe to be back on this side of the river,” Brown said.

Brown, First Selectman Robert Congdon and PRA Chairman Sean Nugent signed the documents while about 60 people watched. Nugent held up one copy and said his signing represented "17 people from the town of Preston who gave time, energy and support to this project,” referring to members of the volunteer redevelopment agency that oversees the property cleanup, marketing and development negotiations.

Malloy said the Norwich Hospital development, along with the proposed U.S. Coast Guard Museum in New London, freight rail and Port of New London upgrades and the ramped up hiring at Electric Boat, “all point to a greater economic future for this part of Connecticut.”

Brown said the project will have “multiple finish lines,” the first being Tuesday's referendum results and Wednesday's official launch. Prior to the signing ceremony, tribal officials gave a tour of the 388-acre property to a prospective developer and planned to meet the developer for lunch afterward.

“That's all I'm going to say about that,” he said.

The conceptual plan unveiled by the tribe in January and outlined in the 150-page PDDA described numerous specific targeted developments throughout the property. A 100,000-square-foot outdoor theme park with indoor attractions and a 90,000-square-foot indoor water park with outdoor attractions and a 100-room luxury hotel are planned on the east side of Route 12. A 135,000-square-foot sports complex with a 100-room hotel and a 100,000-square-foot sports retail store also are shown on the east side of Route 12.

A marina with approximately 50 boat slips is planned on the Thames River directly across from the Mohegan Sun Casino. A public riverfront park is planned, along with 100 time-share residential units and a 220,000-square-foot senior housing complex overlooking the river.

And up the hill on the east side of Route 12, the plan calls for a year-round synthetic ski facility, an RV park and “glamour camping” facility.

The Mohegans would find developers for these projects.

Preston will own the property for about another year to conduct the final environmental cleanup, funded with a $10 million state grant approved Feb. 1 and a second $2 million low-interest loan if necessary. The loan is being finalized through the state Department of Economic and Community Development, Nugent said.

Cleanup has been stalled over the past few months awaiting final approval of the agreement. Nugent said state officials now need to approve the final cleanup plan and release the funding. He anticipated cleanup work resuming by contractor Manafort Bros. early this summer.

The agreement calls for a one-year cleanup period, but both Brown and Nugent speculated it could be completed sooner. The tribe would then take title to the property. Brown told the audience Wednesday that actual project construction could start in late 2019.

While the town will complete the clean-up, the tribe has agreed to complete the demolition of the remaining buildings. Brown said tribal planners hope to save the Administration Building, the original building – used as the backdrop for Wednesday's ceremony – and maybe one or two other buildings. Preserving the decaying buildings was not required in the agreement, however.

Tony Orsini of Norwich stood in the audience Wednesday to join in the celebration. Orsini worked at Norwich Hospital for 35 years in the occupational therapy and rehabilitation services department. When he started working at Norwich Hospital, 2,600 patients lived there. When he left, there were 650.

Orsini said he was one of the last employees to lock up the doors when the campus closed for good in 1996. In fact, Orsini still has several door keys – including one skeleton key – that went to the Norwich Hospital buildings.

He brought them Wednesday to give them to Congdon.

“Preston, the Mohegan Indians and the state,” Orsini said. “They deserve a lot of credit for this.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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