New London chooses potential landlord for consolidation plan

April 2, 2019

New London — The City Council has chosen a Howard Street office complex as the possible future home for its various departments.

The council on Monday authorized the Office of Development and Planning to negotiate with building owner Julian Enterprises for a 25-year lease for about 33,000-square feet of space on the first and second floors of 6 Shaw’s Cove.

It’s a move that inches the city closer to a consolidation of city departments that were operating from offices spread across four buildings. The council still will need to vote to approve terms of a negotiated lease. The city has requested that space to be ready by January.

The city could sell off as many as three buildings — appraisals are being gathered — as a recognition of the decades of deferred maintenance at the aging buildings. Leasing space would eliminate the need for millions of dollars in capital expenses and stabilize yearly costs for things like maintenance and utilities, councilors argue.

“We don’t have the money to take care of all of our own buildings,” Councilor Alma Nartartez said. “We absolutely need to get our city employees under one roof. I’m confident it is the right decision for the city to move forward with this.”

New office space means an updated and more comfortable work environment for employees and easier access to city services for visitors, said Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning.

Part of the plan is to retain and rehab City Hall and market the Richard R. Martin Center at 120 Broad St., the Stanton Building at 111 Union St. and the finance building at 13-15 Masonic St. The city has about 3 million bonded for City Hall rehabilitation. Developers are looking at the Martin Center for the possible site of a residential complex.

The Julians, brother Jason and Andrew, offered a turn-key space that would incorporate all the city’s space needs — city clerk’s office and recreation, building, finance, public works and planning departments. It is the former home to the Department of Labor’s American Job Center in a building adjacent to an apartment complex under construction at the corner of Bank and Howard streets. Electric Boat, the city’s highest taxpayer, has offices on the third floor.

Julian Enterprises had competed with Readco, an Old Lyme-based company that had offered to lease 63 Eugene O’Neill, a historic building now home to Citizen’s Bank. The bank is relocating.

Readco also has purchased an office building across the street at 92 Eugene O’Neill Drive and announced Monday it had options to purchase more property on Bank Street, including a building housing Coastal Digestive.

Jim Sylvia, president of Readco Sylvia Advisors, argued the location of city offices on Eugene O’Neill Drive would help generate economic activity in the city’s commercial district. The locations of the two spaces were not comparable, he said.

“Downtown is downtown,” Sylvia said of the location.

City Council President Don Venditto said that while he appreciated the investments by Readco in New London, it was hard to overlook the lower cost, ample parking and array of planned capital improvements offered by Julian Enterprises.

The Julians have said they are upgrading the building to be more efficient with projects that include a new roof, solar panels, LED light fixtures and HVAC unit replacement.

The majority of parking for the Eugene O’Neil building is in the city-owned parking garage. While employees already have access to spaces there, the city would have had to figure out a way to accommodate visitors in the garage.

The total cost for Julian Enterprises amounts to an estimated 576,795 a year for all expenses. The Readco offer, which incorporated costs for capital improvements, was an estimated $26 million over 25 years.

Venditto, Nartartez, Efrain Dominguez, Michael Tranchida and newly seated Councilor Earl Wilson voted in favor of lease negotiations. Councilors John Satti, who wanted more time to explore options, and Martin Olsen voted against.

Several people at Monday’s council meeting also spoke out against the plan to move offices out of downtown.

“The heartthrob of the city is in downtown New London,” resident Joan Sullivan-Cooper said. “What type of message does this send to developers downtown. I think it sends the wrong message.”

George Waterman, the owner of several downtown buildings with available office space, claimed he was overlooked in the process and had space to offer. Waterman is the owner of Harris Place Building at 165 State St. and Manwaring Building at 225 State St.

Reyes argued that the city had been looking for office space since December and had been transparent in its search and request for proposals from interested parties. He agreed to explore Waterman’s holdings as a courtesy.