Voters in the town of Preston decided on Tuesday that the former Norwich Hospital property will be sold to the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority in an overwhelming landslide.
The MTGA proposed a $600 million plan that could include an indoor water park with an adjacent hotel, a large-scale entertainment venue, and a marina. The state would spend $10 million for environmental cleanup and the tribe would pay Preston millions in taxes each year in addition to funding the bulk of the project. The whole endeavor is expected to create 700 jobs.
A referendum vote got underway at the Preston Town Hall at 6 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. The unofficial vote was 813 yes and 137 no. Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon called it a "monumental day" for the town and thanked the "voters for their vision and support."
"This would not have been possible if it were not for the thousands of uncompensated hours the Redevelopment Agency members spent on this project. I also thank Governor Malloy for his leadership and commitment to the revitalization of Connecticut brownfields. I look forward to joining Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown and Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent for the signing of this historic agreement," Congdon said in a statement on Tuesday.
Kevin Brown, who is chairman of the MTGA Management Board, thanked the residents of Preston, Congdon and the Preston Redevelopment Agency.
“We look forward to a long future together and to developing a project that will not only make Preston residents proud but will strengthen the local economy and the state as a whole," Brown said in a statement on Tuesday.
Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) said the vote "is a strong affirmation of years of hard work by the Town of Preston."
“The collaboration to redevelop this site will provide an enormous boost not just for Preston but for the larger southeastern Connecticut region. First Selectman Bob Congdon deserves recognition for his steady leadership throughout this process and for getting the project to this point. The decision to collaborate with the Mohegan Tribe, whose roots in the area go back centuries, shows an enduring commitment to working with regional partners. I am also proud that my office was part of the team that obtained federal brownfields grant funding from the EPA in 2012 and 2014 to help pay for the environmental cleanup necessary to lay the groundwork for development at this site," Courtney said in a statement on Tuesday.
The 393-acre site on the eastern bank of the Thames River, opposite the tribe’s sprawling 700-acre reservation, is targeted to develop high quality, non-gaming, mixed-use commercial projects that will nearly double the town’s grand list.
The property has been vacant since the hospital closed in 1996. The state had a hard time developing it until long island businessman Joe Gentile, proposed a $1 billion themed movie studio and theme park named "Utopia." While Preston voters approved, the vision, it never materialized.
In 2009 Preston bought the land for $1 and took on cleaning up the Brownfields and dozens of buildings at a cost of $20 million. The building was torn down in 2014.
A signing ceremony of the recently approved Property Disposition and Development Agreement for the Preston Riverwalk site will be held on Wednesday afternoon. Gov. Dannel Malloy signing paperwork at noon.
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