On Wednesday, candidates running for City Council shared their views on preservation at a forum held by New London Landmarks. One of the many questions they were asked that evening was how they felt about redevelopment and adaptive reuse of New London's historic buildings, including the train station, the post office, and the Martin Center.
As with most questions, the candidates were in agreement. They were for it, although some placed strong emphasis on finding private developers to take over buildings that had been owned by the city, the state, or the federal government to get them back on the tax rolls.
The train station is already in private hands. The future of the post office remains uncertain, but there is a legal stipulation in place that will preserve the WPA era murals inside the building. Regarding the Martin Center, however, the question was far from hypothetical.
This week, the City of New London issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) for the private redevelopment and adaptive reuse of the Martin Center located at 120 Broad Street in New London through a purchase or lease agreement with the City.
"The city's ability to preserve that building is nonexistent," said New London City Council Chairman Michael Passero at the forum, who said that it would be his hope that a private developer might see it as a good location for senior housing.
All the candidates at the forum agreed that it would be ideal if whoever takes over the building would maintain at least some of the current recreation and senior services provided by the Martin Center. Some, such as Councilmen Anthony Nolan and Rev. Wade Hyslop Jr., said they'd like to see recreation expanded to maybe include a swimming pool.
Everyone participating on the forum agreed that the city must take steps to ensure services currently offered at the center continue without disruption in the event that they may need to be relocated. What actually happens to the Martin Center will depend on which potential developers respond to the city's request for proposals.
Here's what the City of New London sent out this week about the request for proposals:
Situated on 2.57 acres adjacent to the State of Connecticut Superior Courthouse, the Martin Center currently houses the New London Senior Citizen Center, as well as other municipal departments and service agencies. The City will relocate the current occupants if a proposal is accepted and the City and developer negotiate a development agreement.
The City will give special consideration to any redevelopment plan that incorporates any one or more of the current tenants on a temporary or permanent basis. Qualified individuals, firms or development teams interested in submitting a proposal may contact the City of New London Office of Development & Planning at 860.437.6309or visit the City’s website at http://ci.new-london.ct.us/content/27/55/8297.aspx. All proposals are due by January 15, 2014.
The Martin Center was originally built in the 1930s as part of a school complex. It houses a gymnasium at the basement level, an auditorium with balcony and stage on the first and second floors, and a number of rooms, originally used for school administration and classrooms, on the mezzanine, first and second floors.
The two-story masonry brick building was renovated in 1976 in order to accommodate a number of municipal departments and service agencies. Then, in 1989, an addition was built at the southeast corner of the building to house the New London Senior Citizen Center.
The other current occupants of the Martin Center include the New London Recreation Department, New London Department of Public Utilities, Veolia Water, New London Youth Affairs – Family Center, New London Community & Campus Coalition, Center for the Blind, and some storage for other City departments. FRESH Community Gardens occupies a small area on the southwestern corner of the lot.