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Norwich City Council hears proposal for $8.47 million economic development bond

July 24, 2018

Norwich — Voters could be asked in November whether they support a proposed 2.47 million of the 22.8 million in “economic impact,” including renovation of 124,000 square feet in 17 downtown properties.

But while downtown has seen signs of improvement, with two breweries, a new gym, renovated Eastern Savings Bank and new businesses and restaurants, Mills said the city still needs to invest in itself. There are 46 buildings more than half-empty, with 700,000 square feet of space “vacant/underutilized.”

The new proposed bond wouldn’t be limited to downtown. Mills referred to a map from the Norwich Plan of Conservation and Development showing key areas to target with the second bond, including Taftville, Greeneville, the city’s waterfront, Norwichtown and Bean Hill along West Town Street.

He estimated about half the new bond still would apply to downtown.

Mills said city officials learned some lessons in the first bond. Instead of three programs — a building code upgrade grant, a lease rebate and a revolving loan program — the new plan would have five separate programs, with the code correction and lease rebate remaining.

The proposal calls for 2.9 million in lease rebate, 355,000 for façade improvements and 22 per year. For the following 10 years, the average homeowners’ cost would be 8.5 million total and why.

Mills said he and Nystrom arrived at the total after the City Council’s goal-setting workshops last winter, numerous meetings with businesses and in part based on the experiences from the first bond.

Alderman Joseph DeLucia questioned the cost of administration built into the bond. He calculated that thus far, NCDC has received about 23 percent of the amount spent on the first bond in administrative fees, higher than the estimated 16 to 20 percent.

Mills said the overall administrative cost of the first bond will go down, because administrative costs are front-loaded to get programs started and marketed. Using that experience, Mills estimated the administration costs of the second bond would be about 18.5 percent.

Asked by Philbrick to defend the level of spending following perennial tough budget years, Mills said people repeatedly say “somebody should do something” about problems such as the long-abandoned YMCA building, the scrapyard on the harbor, the underutilized marina and other seemingly stagnant properties.

He said it’s up to city leaders to come up with plans to address those problems.

c.bessette@theday.com

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