As reported in written by Joe Wojtas

Stonington — Last week was a good one for the long hoped for revitalization of downtown Pawcatuck.

First, Jim Lathrop, the owner of Best Energy, began renovating the blighted building next to his businesses at the corner of Mechanic and West Broad streets that’s been partially occupied since 1982. The building is at a very visible location for those driving into the downtown.

Second, the town got word that a Milwaukee firm, that has experience in revitalizing old mills, told town officials it has purchased the sprawling Harris Graphics mill complex at 100 Mechanic St.

Lathrop said the building was quit claimed to him last month by his uncle Stephen Vacca, who town officials had tried to convince to upgrade the property for years.

Lathrop began making exterior facade repairs last week.

One recent change designed to spur downtown development now allows Lathrop to invest 50 percent of the $184,500 value of the property each year without having to meet costly flood elevation requirements. Before the change, property owners were limited to investing 50 percent of the property’s value over a five-year period. This severely restricted investment.

Lathrop said he will work with town officials to do as much work as possible to upgrade the 4,647-square-foot building which sits on a quarter acre of land.

“We are conscious about how visible this property is so we want to do a good job,” said Lathrop, who is a member of the town’s Economic Development Commission and owns another mixed use building on West Broad Street.

“I’ve wanted to do this for so long. So it makes me happy to finally be able to do it,” he said.

In addition to the changing the five-year lookback period on property investment, the town has taken other steps over the past year or so to spur investment in Pawcatuck. These include zoning regulation changes to allow more uses in the downtown and mill districts and beginning efforts to get the flood gates along River Road certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would lower insurance rates for businesses and property owners in mill areas, and establishing creating a tax increment financing district, which would provide needed funding for downtown improvements.

First Selectman Rob Simmons said Sunday that the hard work by the Planning and Zoning Commission, EDC, Director of Planning Jason Vincent and selectmen is the reason “Pawcatuck is starting to pop.”

“This is not by accident,” he said.

The 100 Mechanic St. mill complex purchased by Phoenix Investors LLC is occupied by Electric Boat, Cottrell Brewing, ConnRi Paper and Applied Physical Sciences, among others.

“We are very excited to be the owner of the Pawcatuck property – its history is truly remarkable,” Anthony Crivello, Phoenix’s executive vice president, wrote to Simmons last week.

Simmons congratulated company officials in an email and said he hopes to meet them in the next few weeks to discuss their plans.

The town has developed some conceptual sketches of what a renovated complex might look and has forwarded those to Phoenix.

Vincent also wrote to Crivello last week, congratulating him on the acquisition of the priority.

“I am particularly excited to see what we can do to help your organization fulfill their investment strategy with this property,” he wrote. “We have also worked to create a series of zoning tools to enable creative thinking, while minimizing permit risk, to facilitate both short-term and long-term private investment. It is your lead, but please let us know what we can do to help.”

Read the full story here