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The Day – New London targets part of pandemic funds at city center buildings

New London – The city plans to distribute nearly $500,000 to downtown property owners as it rolls out a new round of federal coronavirus pandemic emergency funds.

This round of funding aims to stimulate the infrastructure improvement efforts of the owners of 11 downtown buildings. Grants range from $20,000 requested by Washington Street Coffee House, 13 Washington St., for vent replacements to $75,000 for proposed exterior and interior work at Harris Place, 165 State St.

In total, the City’s Office of Development and Planning has recommended $488,500 in grants for the proposed work which falls into three categories: beautification, storefront activation and historic preservation.

City Council will vote on each of the proposed grants at its Monday meeting. ODP Director Felix Reyes said this first round of funding is boosting ongoing or planned projects. Each of the owners provided the city with details of the projects as part of their grant application to the city.

Four of the projects involve roof repairs or replacement projects: Hot Rod Cafe at 114 Bank St., Thames River Greenery at 68 State St., an empty former restaurant space at 312 Bank St. and the Public Library of New London at 55 Huntington St. Each of the nominees would receive $50,000.

Roof issues are a common theme downtown and impact a building owner’s ability to maintain a tenant, Reyes said. “When you see a business leave because the owner can’t keep a building dry, it’s frustrating,” he said.

At a minimum, Reyes said an applicant for the grant program pays 25% of the project, and often more. Grant terms and conditions are tailored to each individual project. The city retains a small retainer to ensure projects are completed.

Other projects that have applied for funding include: Noble Restaurant at 74 Bank Street for interior renovations; the future Blue Duck Restaurant at 52 Bank Street for interior renovations; $50,000 for a historic renovation at 223 State St.; and $28,500 for exterior repairs to the building at Hygienic Art at 79-83 Bank St. Hygienic also requested $15,000 for accessibility from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Buildings are part of the downtown infrastructure and without those buildings, there are no businesses,” Reyes said.

Rehabilitation and construction projects are subject to prevailing federal wages and must adhere to city supply orders, according to a memo from city accounting buyer Joshua Montague.

City Council has so far approved half of the $26.2 million in funds provided to the city through the 2021 U.S. Federal Bailout Act. Council will vote on uses of the second half of the funds later. This year.

If the final grant applications are approved, the ODP will have $661,500 of its initial allocation of $1.15 million to use to invest in historic structures and small businesses. An upcoming second round of funding will focus on existing businesses, Reyes said.

Overall, the city’s ARPA money is divided into five categories: disproportionately impacted communities, negative economic impacts, infrastructure, public health, and administration.

One of the most recent approvals was for $72,500 to the Hispanic Alliance of Southeast Connecticut. The group collaborates with Public Art for Racial Justice Education to design a series of events focused on education, economic development and youth development in New London’s Hispanic community.

Last month, the city signed a $108,729 contract with the New London Community Meal Center to enable the expansion of meal service and the implementation of a food equity initiative. The council approved a contract with The Immigration Advocacy & Support Center to expand COVID-19 casework for the Haitian-Creole community and connect immigrants to services.

One of the largest sums of money, over $2 million, is spent on the Birth-to-Age 8 Community Resource Center at BP Learned, a joint venture between the city and the school district.

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