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Downtown New London housing restoration in the works

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published September 12. 2013 4:00AM

New London - A few tweaks to the city's zoning laws and New London Harbour Towers project manager Tony Silvestri says he will be on his way this fall to realizing another ambitious dream for downtown: City Flats, a private, large-scale, downtown housing restoration plan on the scale of historic Starr Street.

Silvestri said the historic preservation group New London Landmarks has identified up to 37 buildings in the area of Reed, Coit, Brewer, Tilley, Blinman and Washington streets that could be purchased for the project. Thirteen prospective buyers, he said, are on a priority list for City Flats, which would involve carving affordable condominiums out of multifamily residences.

"I'm really getting pumped up as far as what this is going to turn into," Silvestri said in a phone interview this week.

The Tagliatella family, which backed the nine-story, 52-unit New London Harbour Towers project on Bank Street, has agreed to fund City Flats, Silvestri said. The project, which is initially targeting the neighborhood around Harbour Towers, will improve the value of units that overlook the back of the building, he said.

Silvestri said he is talking with seven building owners about converting their properties into City Flats developments. He said the process with the city is far enough along that he feels comfortable making offers on the buildings contingent upon final approval of zoning changes, which include updates to its blight rules.

Silvestri said the first City Flats renovation could begin as early as November. The first unit ready for occupancy likely would be available in March, he added.

"It's pretty realistic at this point," Silvestri said.

Silvestri's plan is to buy up large old homes, extensively renovate the interiors and sell them as condominiums. Each unit would go for an average of about $100,000.

A residential project on this scale has not been attempted in downtown since the 1970s, when the now-defunct New England Savings Bank restored dozens of historic homes along Starr Street.

Silvestri said the area he has targeted initially is an eclectic mix of homes. Landmarks is doing research to determine how they looked originally, and Silvestri's goal is to make them appear as historically accurate as possible.

City Flats condos, averaging 900 square feet, are expected to cost less than renting, in most cases, he said. Silvestri estimated typical mortgage costs at $750 to $800 a month.

Silvestri said the success of Harbour Towers, completed just as the region entered one of the worst real estate recessions in decades, convinced him to go ahead with his City Flats concept, which is modeled after a program in Providence. In the past three months, he said, five Harbour Towers units have closed, including a penthouse condo sold for $686,000.

Harbour Towers is about two-thirds sold, he said, thanks largely to a program that allows buyers to trade in their unsold homes and receive credit toward their condo purchase in New London. He estimated about 80 percent of the most recent Harbour Tower buyers have purchased through creative financing.

"The trade program couldn't be working any better," he said.

l.howard@theday.com

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