Federal brownfield funding aimed at jump-starting downtown development in New London

Sep. 23—NEW LONDON — The city will soon begin disbursing $800,000 in federal brownfield clean-up funding through a new revolving loan and grant program as part of an ongoing effort to jump-start the stalled redevelopment of vacant and underused downtown properties.

"Several owners have expressed great interest as the need for this type of gap grant funding exists for these properties to realize their greatest reuse potential," city Community and Economic Development Project Manager Tom Bombria wrote in a Sept. 8 memo to City Council members.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund Cooperative Agreement, approved by the council on Monday, allows for the issuing of loan funding to eligible for-profit entities in amounts ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 — enough to either partially or completely remediate between two to 10 properties.

The total funding package will be split with $500,000 earmarked for loans and $300,000 set aside for grants. Brownfields are described in a program summary as properties whose development or use may be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.

"The people we expect to apply for these competitive loans will have already done property assessment to determine if there's lead, asbestos or other materials there," Bombria said. "This money is aimed at getting them over the clean-up hump and help fix those properties."

As part of the program, Bombria, who also serves as the city's brownfield program manager, will hire an environmental expert to review hazardous building material reports, provide inspections and supply the expertise needed to oversee any clean-up activity.

The zero-interest loans will be required to be repaid over a span of five to 15 years, depending on the applicant.

Bombria said he hopes to begin soliciting funding applications by late November or early December.

Non-profit recipients may see up to 50% of their loans deferred and forgiven at a rate of 20% annually for five years. A property lien will be placed on land for investment protection purposes.

Non-profits groups that own eligible sites can also apply for straight grant funding though the program, which contains enough money to help remediate two to six properties at a cost pegged at between $25,000 to $150,000, depending on the location.

Any grant or loan award must be preceded by a 20% cost-share commitment from a recipient, which will guarantee a minimum of $160,000 in private investment to support the revitalization efforts.

Though the funding will be open to any city applicants, Bombria said there will be a focus on properties on Bank and State streets.

"We're looking at those empty buildings, the ones with commercial storefronts and potential upper-floor residences," he said.