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New economic development grants expected to lessen NCDC's budget deficit

Norwich — The Norwich Community Development Corp. on Thursday reluctantly approved a $622,783 budget for 2021-22 with a projected deficit of $127,000 but quickly learned of two major grants that could erase some of the red ink.

Before the proposed budget was finalized, City Manager John Salomone told the NCDC board of directors that he will recommend using $2 million of the city’s first $7 million in American Rescue Plan for building code upgrades and for the so-called “vanilla box” renovations to prepare storefronts for reuse. The proposal would revive a portion of the former 10-year $3 million downtown revitalization program that expired in April.

NCDC would manage the program and receive administrative fees, Salomone said, but no specifics were announced Thursday. He will present his entire proposal for spending the city’s anticipated $21 million in American Rescue Plan grants to the City Council on July 6. The city already has received the first half of the grant, about $10 million, he said.

Fawn Walker, NCDC transition coordinator before new agency President Kevin Brown starts July 6, also told the board the agency was awaiting word on a state environmental remediation grant for the second Ponemah Mill building in Taftville. NCDC administers the environmental remediation for the mill complex being converted into hundreds of apartments and some commercial space.

Three hours after the Thursday morning NCDC meeting, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a $797,000 environmental grant to NCDC to remediate and renovate the Ponemah building at 555 and 575 Norwich Ave. Developer OneKey LLC, which is completing a major renovation of the larger adjacent Ponemah Mill building into 237 apartments, plans to convert the second mill into 141 apartments and 6,000 square feet of restaurant and business space.

Given the unsettled nature of the budget, approved 7-2 Thursday, the board agreed to revisit the budget and make adjustments in 60 days. That also will give incoming President Brown the chance to review the budget and make suggestions, board Chairman Robert Buckley said.

Other aspects of NCDC’s finances also are in transition. Program Manager Mary Riley said there has been a recent “uptick” in membership at NCDC’s Foundry 66 shared workspace facility. But the facility is expected to finish the 2020-21 fiscal year $59,000 below its budgeted $120,792 budget, due to the COVID-19 business cutbacks. The board budgeted $65,735 for next year but noted a 25% increase in membership income from March through May of this year.

Riley reported that 80% of Foundry 66’s first floor at 66 Franklin St. is occupied, and 43% of the second floor is rented. The facility offers various types of space, including open flex space, formal offices or “designated desks.” Building owner Tim Owens sets the rental rates for the second floor, while NCDC controls the first floor.

c.bessette@theday.com

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