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Legislation would fund demolition at former Norwich Hospital site

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published February 20. 2013 4:00AM

Preston town officials testified before the state legislature's Commerce Committee Tuesday in favor of a proposed bill that calls for the state to fund the completion of demolition at the former Norwich Hospital property in Norwich and Preston.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, calls for the state to commit sufficient economic resources to demolish structures on the former hospital property. Cafero said the cost of cleaning up the property has hindered redevelopment efforts, and he also called for the state to work with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to redevelop the properties in Norwich and Preston.

The town of Preston took over ownership of the 393-acre portion of hospital property in that town, while the state still owns the 61-acre Norwich portion after the city decided in January 2010 to reject the state's offer to take the property.

"This is a prime piece of real estate that has languished over the years, largely because of the uncertainty of cleanup process and how much it would cost private developers,'' Cafero told the joint House and Senate Commerce Committee. "The state needs to put out the message that it will clean up the mess it has created on the site and move the process forward."

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said he gave the committee a brief history of the efforts to redevelop the property over the years and the town's decision to take on the responsibility in light of the state's lack of success.

Congdon said while the legislature would not vote directly on the town's latest requests for state funding, voiced and written support for legislative leaders would help the town's applications. Preston is seeking a $5 million state grant through the Urban Act and a $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant, both from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

State Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, thanked Cafero for introducing the bill, saying it reflected a bipartisan tone supporting development of the hospital property, along with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration's support.

Bowles said he will add his name as a co-sponsor of the bill, also co-sponsored by state Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, and state Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Woodbridge.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to continue the momentum in cleaning up the property over the past couple of years," Bowles said.

Sean Nugent, chairman of the Preston Redevelopment Agency, told the legislative committee that the town has been successful in obtaining $4.1 million in state grants and loans thus far, matched with $2.1 million in town funds, and another $1.8 million in federal funds matched with $240,000 in town funds.

With the money spent to date, the PRA has demolished 22 of the 57 buildings and secured the historic Administration Building for possible redevelopment - the only building deemed salvageable after years of decay and neglect of the campus.

Nugent and Congdon also thanked Malloy's administration for the funding support given thus far to the town. Malloy has been the only governor to visit the property since the state closed the former mental illness hospital in 1996.

c.bessette@theday.com

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