New London seeks an additional $10m in public funding to upgrade downtown buildings

New London ― The city is seeking nearly $10 million in state funding to improve downtown building infrastructure as part of its downtown revitalization project.

In April, the state Department of Economic and Community Development awarded the city $5.9 million through its CT Community Challenge grant. The grant aims to improve the vibrancy of communities across the state.

On Monday, the city council authorized the mayor to seek additional funding of $10 million in a second round of grants. The bid proposals include a student resource center for local colleges, a lab for a company planning to move downtown, and additional funding for the proposed community center.

Elizabeth Nocera, the city’s economic development coordinator, said the city will submit the application on Friday.

The grant has a matching requirement, which means developers will provide at least 25% matching of overall project costs.

The city’s downtown revitalization project has totaled $27.1 million in redevelopment costs so far funded by the state, city and private sector and includes five private properties: 46 Bank St., 3 South Water St., 123 Bank St., 133 Bank St. and the Arts Center Guard.

Besides La Garde, the properties will be redeveloped commercial spaces, mixed residential and commercial buildings and a boutique hotel.

The Manwaring building at 223 State St. is also part of the revitalization project but did not receive a state grant. The building, leased by Connecticut College for the next five years, reopened in late August to accommodate 60 students in its upper levels.

With the new round of applications, the city is seeking about $1 million from the state to make the lower levels of the Manwaring Building a “Tri-College Hub,” or student resource center, for Connecticut College, the Mitchell College and the US Coast Guard Academy.

The city’s director of economic development and planning, Felix Reyes, said Monday that the city has failed to create a college town. He said the downtown student center would put all the colleges in one center.

Nocera said the space was gutted during construction and needed improvements.

She said the grant application proposes to develop the right side of the first floor and the basement into a gift shop, cafe, multi-purpose classroom, technical room and office space for students and the General public.

The city is asking about $1.7 million to develop a $2.7 million drug testing lab at 224 Bank St. Genesys Diagnostics, a lab that provides diagnostic services such as COVID-19 testing to providers health care, bought a four-building office complex in February, moving its headquarters from Montville to New London.

The city is asking about $1 million for the former Metropolitan Hotel at 27 Bank St., owned by Brandt Gentry and Creative Property Concepts, LLC. Nocera said the building had been vacant for nearly two decades and was to be converted into nine market-priced apartments with retail on the first floor.

The developer offered to match the grant with $315,000.

Another application centers on using $1 million to support downtown arts, culture and tourism. Nocera said this includes repairing or painting several murals and adding wayfinding signs, electronic kiosks and walkways.

With part of the city now established as a cultural district, Nocera said the district needed to have at least two entrance gates to welcome visitors. She said the grant came with $175,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Cultural District Commission.

The same app is also offering to help transform the former Apostolic Cathedral of Hope at 157 Green St into the Stone Temple Venue, a venue for future events. Downtown restaurateur Rod Cornish bought the property for $315,000 in April and offered to match the grant with $75,000.

Finally, the city is asking the DECD for $5 million to fund the construction of the city’s community center in Fort Trumbull. The city would match the grant with its $30 million bond and a nearly $1.2 million brownfields grant from DECD.

Nocera said the $5 million would be for “advance deficit financing” to cover inflation, building materials and labor shortages.

The construction of the center is currently the subject of a call for tenders. At Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Michael Passero said he couldn’t speculate on the results. He said the market has changed over the past two years.

Unlike the other applications, the grant money would be used to construct a building and not redevelop an existing property.

James C. Tibbs