New London officials address concerns over proposed city offices move
New London — About 50 residents turned up for a public forum held at 6 Shaw’s Cove to discuss the city’s proposal to consolidate and relocate much of its municipal offices into that building as part of a long-term lease that is being negotiated.
The move is estimated to cost $19 million over 25 years. The City Council has continued to field criticism from residents over the possible consolidation, even though city officials have argued that the move would save money in the long run.
Though the City Council has not yet made a final decision as to whether it will move forward with the proposal, it used Wednesday’s forum as an opportunity to field questions and comments from residents.
The plan — described in detail during an hourlong presentation by a panel that included Mayor Michael Passero, City Council members, and Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, who is spearheading the initiative — outlines moving much of the city’s municipal offices into the 6 Shaw’s Cove office space, vacating three aging city buildings.
Aside from City Hall on State Street, which Passero said would be renovated and retained for future municipal use, the city presently has offices in the Richard R. Martin Center at 120 Broad St., the finance building at 13-15 Masonic St. and the Stanton Building at 111 Union St. The Martin Center is already for sale.
Should the town consolidate those municipal services into one central location, Passero argued Wednesday that besides saving money, the move also would allow for greater efficiency between departments and would bypass a long and varied list of risks at its aging buildings.
Passero said the city also would be able to temporarily vacate City Hall to allow for much-needed renovations there.
“This is to provide a better, enhanced experience for you, the citizens,” he said, while also explaining the city’s current municipal structure as “extremely inefficient.”
“People are parking and moving cars from building to building. It is not the type of service I feel we should be giving to the residents,” he said.
The office of the mayor, city council, the finance department, the registrar of voters and probate would continue to be housed in City Hall after renovations are completed, city grant coordinator Elizabeth Nocera said. All other “public facing” departments would be relocated to 6 Shaw’s Cove, “so the public could come in and take care of their needs in one place.”
Though some audience members were in support of the plan, many residents expressed concerns ranging from the potential long-term impacts of “abandoning” New London’s downtown to whether the city would actually be able to sell its three municipal buildings.
George Waterman, a property owner on State Street, worried that moving City Hall from downtown would be a “disastrous mistake.”
“This is extremely disloyal to all of us who have invested in downtown New London,” he said. “I think it should be reconsidered.”
Other residents questioned whether the city was properly vetting its potential landlord at Shaw’s Cove, Julian Enterprises, who is facing litigation on multiple fronts, perhaps the most prominent of which involves an ongoing dispute with the town of Fairfield over management of a landfill there.
Much of Wednesday’s crowd also came in support for Fresh New London, a community group with a garden on the grounds of the Martin Center. Members from that group questioned if and how the city would move forward in supporting their efforts.
In answer, Reyes said the city would continue to support and look for a “responsible, long-term solution” for the group.
“We don’t have a solution today, but we may have one tomorrow,” he said. “Just know that it is a priority.”
Passero also answered to that concern, stating that continuing to own Martin Center has been “sucking up too many resources.”
“It’s not providing what I believe our youth and seniors deserves. By getting that building on the tax rolls, it will help free up resources that we need,” Passero said.
“Our goals are the same as yours if you can understand our strategy,” he continued. “As far as the garden goes, we are invested with you to find a new space.”