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New London development group RCDA getting new leadership

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: theday.com

Published June 10. 2013 2:00PM   Updated June 10. 2013 11:49PM
Joplin, two vice presidents have been in office for more than a decade

New London — Michael Joplin, who has overseen Fort Trumbull development as president of the New London Development Corp. since 2002 and through a nationally prominent eminent domain lawsuit, will step down Friday from the renamed Renaissance City Development Association.

First Vice President Karl-Erik Sternlof and Second Vice President John Johnson, who have been involved with the Fort Trumbull project since late 1990s, will also resign.

Linda Mariani, a New London attorney, is expected to be voted in as president during the RCDA’s special meeting at 5 p.m. Friday in the Harris Building.

Besides being the first change in top leadership in more than a decade, the move will signal the mayor’s desire to take control of the development of the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

“The city administration is going to get a lot more involved,’’ Mariani said Monday. “I’ll be steering the ship, but citizens of New London will be telling me where to steer it.”

New officers expected to be elected Friday include Joe Grillo of New London, a developer, who would be first vice president; and Ron Nossek, a CPA and former mayor, who would be second vice president.

The RCDA office is expected to move to the city’s planning offices, Mariani said.

All new officers will be nominated Friday by the departing senior officers and are supported by the city administration, according to a statement released Monday by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio’s office.

“Over the past year, my administration has been working closely with the former NLDC, now RCDA, as well as the City Council, to change our approach to development and enter a new era in cooperative development leadership,” Finizio said in a prepared statement. “Today marks the next stage of that transition.”

The city is also committed to transferring to the city the titles to any remaining deeds in Fort Trumbull that are held in RCDA’s name, he said.

“Moving forward I intend to advocate strongly for the mixed use green integrated technology neighborhood on the peninsula that was a focus of my campaign for Mayor,” Finizio said. “These changes announced today do not merely represent a change in personnel but a change in the interpretation of the MDP (Municipal Development Plan). I have every confidence in the new leadership at RCDA to cooperate with the City on a new shared vision for development at Fort Trumbull.”

The departing officers had just been elected in April.

Joplin, who lives in Chester, said Monday he is not sure how involved he will be after the transition.

“Whether I remain on the board is an open question,’’ Joplin said. “I don’t plan to ... but I have to talk to some people.”

He said he will be available to board members “for many, many months” to help with the transition in leadership.

In January 2012, the NLDC changed its name to the Renaissance City Development Association and Joplin said he would be giving up the presidency after a ground-breaking for the first phase of the $24 million, 103-unit Village on Thames on 7 acres in Fort Trumbull. At the time, it was announced that Mariani would take over the organization.

But the proposed ground-breaking was delayed last month. Just before the closing on the property, RiverBank, owned by father and son Irwin and Robert Stillman, changed the terms of the financing for the roughly $8 million needed for the first phase of the project.

Last Friday, the RCDA rejected a “standstill” agreement proposed by the Stillmans that would have frozen negotiations for a period of time. According to the development agreement, the next step is for both sides to meet with a mediator to try to resolve the issues.

“This project could still go forward,’’ Joplin said Monday. “There’s no irrevocable legal reason why this project can’t go forward. The problem is what’s required to finance this project. The Stillmans have the financial ability to do it, no doubt about it, but whether they want to enter into a contractual agreement necessary to move forward is the question.”

Robert Stillman responded to an email Monday saying he could not comment.

Sternlof, who lives in New London and is an attorney with offices in Norwich, praised Joplin for his business expertise over the years, and for all the hours of work he’s committed to the city and the Fort Trumbull project.

“It’s been more than just a hobby for him,’’ Sternof said. “He did it because it was the right thing to do.”

The NLDC had long been dormant in 1998 when the state asked former Connecticut College President Claire Gaudiani to revitalize the group and head it. Gaudiani had helped convince Pfizer Inc. to build its $300 million global research center on Pequot Avenue and the state pledged about $90 million in redevelopment money for nearby Fort Trumbull.

The City Council passed its responsibilities for the development to the NLDC and granted the nonprofit agency the powers of eminent domain.

The NLDC bought up nearly all the privately owned land on the peninsula and took some by eminent domain. Several property owners fought the eminent domain takings, alleging the city had no right to take private property and turn it over to a private developer. But in 2005, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the takings, saying the city had the right to seize the properties for future economic development.

Other than the refurbishing of a 90,000 square foot office building on the site, there has been no new construction in Fort Trumbull since the municipal development agreement was approved in late 1999.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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