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Lawmakers OK Sale Of Remaining Norwich State Hospital Land

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With its decaying walls and ceilings, Gothic Revival architecture and history as a hospital for the mentally ill, Norwich State Hospital has inspired rumors of ghosts and the occult.

Now the site is slated to serve as a new home for an entertainment venue, with state lawmakers' approval Thursday of the sale of the property.

State lawmakers from both the finance and revenue committee and the administrative services committee unanimously approved the $300,000 sale of the remaining 49.65 acres owned by the state. The four parcels to be sold, which border both sides of Route 12 and the town of Preston, include about two dozen buildings, mostly vacant houses where hospital doctors and staff once lived.

Ron Shelton, managing director of Thames River Landing, the Farmington-based real estate firm that is buying the land, said plans for the property align with the state's commitment to boost tourism in the region.

"Our thoughts are along the lines of family entertainment," Shelton said, though he offered no further details.

Norwich State Hospital, once a campus of about 70 buildings on 482 acres on the Thames River, was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

The state closed the hospital in 1996 and spent years trying to market the property, including considering one proposal to transform it into a movie studio, amusement and retail complex.

In 2004, the property was valued at between $8.3 million and $12.7 million in private appraisals paid for by the state.

But the property fell into serious disrepair, enduring years of significant water and sewage damage.

In 2009, the town of Preston bought most of the campus from the state for $1. Preston officials discovered the deterioration of the buildings was so severe that they had no choice but to raze their portion of the hospital.

An additional 13.17 acres were transferred to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to maintain as open space.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom and City Manager Alan Bergren endorsed the sale in a statement to the committees on Thursday, expressing the city's desire to get the property back into the private sector and back on the tax roll.

Nystrom said the sale of the property — a long-time "eyesore" — also would boost Norwich's image, because the hospital property is at a gateway to the city.

"It's really about getting those properties cleaned up — getting the brownfield issues addressed, repurposed, and addressing occupancy and unemployment," he said.

But, he added, "Everything's in place for what we hope will be a thoughtful, well-planned community."

State Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich, echoed the city officials' sentiments, adding that the nearby casinos draw about 60,000 to 80,000 visitors daily.

Officials from Norwich have not yet met with the real estate firm, a subsidiary of Society Financial Corp.

The company has financed construction projects in Connecticut and developed residential and commercial projects, as well as government buildings and outdoor areas in Massachusetts.

Though the sale price is $300,000, Shelton told the government administration committee members that the "true cost" of the project — including soil remediation and building demolition — would be $3.3 million.

Shelton said the firm hopes remediation of the land will be well underway in the next six to 12 months.

"We've worked on this for a long time," said Donald DeFronzo, state commissioner of administrative services. "We're very happy to get to this point."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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