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Sale of Norwich Hospital land clears hurdles

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published June 27. 2013 3:00PM   Updated June 27. 2013 11:49PM

Hartford — The prospective buyer of 49.65 acres of the former Norwich Hospital envisions entertainment- and tourism-related development for the property on Route 12, a major travel route between the region's two casinos.

Two legislative committees on Thursday approved the sale of former hospital land on both sides of Route 12 in Norwich for $300,000 to Thames River Landing LLC, a Farmington-based firm that has been interested in the property for several years.

Ronald A. Shelton, managing director of Thames River Landing, told the General Assembly's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and the Government, Administration and Elections Committee in meetings Thursday that he could not reveal specific development plans. He noted the property's proximity to the gambling centers and the state's push to improve tourism attractions in the state.

"We would like to boost that effort," he said.

Finance committee members joked about the strong interest in the entire former hospital property by ghost hunters and paranormal researchers, suggesting that could be included in Thames River Landing's entertainment proposals.

"You're going in the right direction," said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, of the finance committee. "Good luck to you. I think that's a wonderful idea."

Both legislative committees unanimously approved the sale — the finance committee by voice vote and the administration committee by a 7-0 vote.

The proposed purchase-and-sale agreement next must be approved by Attorney General George Jepson, and the closing must be held within 60 days of final state approval.

State Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Donald DeFronzo gave both committees a brief history of Norwich Hospital and the state's efforts to sell the property since the hospital closed in 1996. While Preston accepted the state's offer to take ownership of the 393 acres in that town, Norwich declined to take on the 68 acres in the city.

The state removed 11 acres on the west side of Route 12 from the proposed sale to preserve it as open space, and Thames River Landing was the top bidder in the state's latest effort to find a buyer.

The finance committee meeting was dominated by questions posed to DeFronzo about the value of the property and the state's 17-year neglect of maintenance. DeFronzo said environmental cleanup costs have been estimated at anywhere from $1.1 million to $5 million, greatly affecting the potential sale price, and the buyer would assume all of those costs.

Thames River Landing would be allowed to apply to the state for financial assistance with the cleanup and development there, DeFronzo said.

There is no time frame for the cleanup in the purchase-and-sale agreement, but state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said the City of Norwich's $10.3 million assessed value placed on the property, including the decaying buildings, should be incentive to clean and demolish the buildings.

Shelton said he hopes to start the environmental cleanup within six to 12 months. He said the firm has been interested in the property for many years and is aware of the environmental conditions.

Thames River Landing placed its initial $30,000 deposit some 18 months ago, has had $110,000 in escrow "for quite some time" and is eager to complete the purchase.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom and City Manager Alan Bergren sent a joint letter to the legislative committees endorsing the sale. The city officials said the city is eager to collect "much-needed" tax revenue and to work with Thames River Landing on "an appropriate and complimentary" development plan that would benefit both Norwich and Preston.

c.bessette@theday.com

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