News that the Preston Redevelopment Agency has yet again broken off talks with a would-be developer for the old Norwich Hospital property should not overly discourage Preston residents. Progress continues to improve the marketability of the property; relabeled Preston Riverwalk by the town in anticipation investors will find that moniker more attractive.
Last week the region learned that the town had ended talks with the last group standing from the latest RFP (request for proposals) process, JHM Financial LLC of Stamford. Talks had remained secret, but on Friday PRA Chairman Sean Nugent said the proposal centered on developing various renewable energy facilities throughout the property, such as solar, biomass, fuel cell arrays and wind turbines.
It remains unclear what soured the deal. The Day editorial board is working to arrange a meeting with Mr. Nugent and First Selectman Robert Congdon to discuss the recent negotiations and what may happen next.
There are a few silver linings to be found along Preston Riverwalk, however. With the RFP process now behind it, town leaders are free to consider other proposals for the 390-acre property. The PRA has been in talks with Jones Lang LaSalle of Boston, the firm that helped draft the RFP, to act as a brokerage agent in marketing the property.
Earlier this year the state amended the purchase and sales agreement under which ownership transferred from the state to the town. The change lifted the requirement for the environmental cleanup of the entire site before any development could take place. The new agreement allows Preston to sell portions of the property once pollutants are removed from those sections.
The town has also made significant progress in its pollution abatement efforts, obtaining state and federal grants for the cleanup and getting many of the old structures razed in return for the demolition firm taking possession of the materials.
Add it all together and there is reason for, if not optimism, at least hopefulness.
Yet there is also reason for frustration. Townspeople have now watched several potential developers come and go. And concern about this small town's ability in a struggling economy to maintain this large property is understandable. Yet the PRA deserves credit for making far more progress in the last couple of years than the state did in the decade after it abandoned the hospital campus.
Now these volunteers need some development to show for their efforts.