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State Port Authority eyes vacant Crystal Avenue property in New London

October 4, 2018

New London — The Connecticut Port Authority on Thursday revealed itself to be the second entity interested in buying or leasing the vacant Crystal Avenue property being marketed by the city.

The news comes a week after a waste disposal, construction and demolition outfit announced its own proposal for the city-owned parcel, which is viewed as a potential economic driver and companion site to the nearby State Pier.

Port Authority Executive Director Evan Matthews, in a written response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Day, declined to release any details of the Port Authority’s proposal for the Crystal Avenue property, citing exemptions in FOI law that protect “trade secrets” and appraisals and evaluations made prior to the acquisition of a property.

Port Authority Chairman Scott Bates, in a statement also released on Thursday, said that the authority’s interest is directly related to the ongoing improvements at State Pier. The state has pledged 15 million for upgrades to accommodate its future work there.

The city is counting on some side benefits from an increase in activity there.

“State Pier New London is an important part of the Connecticut maritime economy and a state owned asset,” Bates said in the statement. “As the agency in charge of creating jobs by promoting maritime commerce, the Connecticut Port Authority is interested in anything it might do to advance that mission and improve facilities at State Pier. In that spirit, CPA has expressed an interest in the property in question.”

Bates said no substantive discussions have taken place with the city about its proposal but the Port Authority would “continue to look for opportunities to implement Connecticut’s five-year maritime strategy which puts a strong emphasis on the full development of State Pier.”

The Crystal Avenue parcel under discussion is the former home to the 124-unit Thames River Apartments, a federally subsidized complex managed by the New London Housing Authority. Because of its deteriorating condition, the Housing Authority and city worked together to move residents into privately owned housing earlier this year.

The city closed on the property earlier this week and previously had started marketing the property through the Renaissance City Development Association in an effort to quickly shift the liability and costs for demolition of the buildings away from the city.

The City Council in August voted 4-3 in favor of buying the property for 800,000 for what CWPM considered an underestimation of the cost of demolition and asbestos removal from the Crystal Avenue buildings.

Estimates contained in an appraisal completed for the Housing Authority put demolition costs at 1.75 million based on its own walkthrough of the Crystal Avenue buildings.

In response to Satti’s questions on Monday, New London Mayor Michael Passero said, “I don’t know what the cost is but it’s going to have to be covered.”

Passero has said that one of the city’s first priorities is demolishing the structures to relieve the city of liability. It was the city’s hope that the cost be borne by developers.

The ultimate goal for the property was always to find a tax generator for the previously tax-exempt 12-acre parcel while factoring in its proximity to one of only three deepwater ports in the state, said Felix Reyes, the city’s director of Development and Planning.

Reyes said from his perspective, the intent of the city is to tie the Crystal Avenue property into future expansion at State Pier while considering the economic benefits to the city.

Passero said meetings with the two prospective buyers could start as early as next week.

“We are pleased we have two strong parties interested and look forward to discussing the proposals with each one,” Passero said. “We’re anxious to move the process along quickly.”

Passero, who under advice from City Attorney Jeffrey Londregan had rejected a Freedom of Information request to release names of parties submitting proposals, said on Thursday, “I didn’t feel like it was the city’s place to release the identities of either of the respondents.”

g.smith@theday.com

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