September 05, 2023
By Lee Howard
New London ― The Citizens Bank building at 63 Eugene O’Neill Drive has been sold for $1.75 million to High Tide Capital LLC, the same historic restoration developer that has signed an agreement to buy The Day building next door.
Dash Davidson, a principal of the Bangor, Maine-based development firm along with partner Max Patinkin, said in a phone interview Tuesday that there are no firm plans for the 32,000-square-foot site, though he added the company would likely use historic tax credits to fund the project.
He said it made sense to buy the bank property and an adjoining office building after the company negotiated a $1.875 million deal to buy The Day offices at 47 Eugene O’Neill Drive.
“It’s a huge project,” he said. “We love New London. We’re very excited about everything happening in the city.”
READCO, an Old Lyme-based real estate investment firm, bought the two bank buildings in 1999 for $2.5 million, according to City Hall land records. The now vacant buildings, which include the 21,000-square-foot former bank and the adjoining 11,000-square-foot office site, stand within the city’s Opportunity Zone, offering tax-free appreciation and deferred capital gains if certain conditions are met.
The slightly curved Citizens Bank building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was originally the home of the Savings Bank of New London, which was declared bankrupt in 1993 after more than a century in business. The regal Greek Revival facade, adorned in Milford pink granite, dates to a renovation completed in 1905 under the eye of acclaimed New London architect Dudley St. Clair Donnelly, though the original bank structure goes back to 1852, according to online historical sources.
The office building dates to 1975, and the two buildings together were assessed at $2.9 million in 2018, according to land records. Citizens Bank vacated the building in 2019.
Constance Howard of US Properties represented the seller, READCO LLC, and partner Susan Howard represented High Tide Capital. The deal closed on Friday.
Michael Lech, president of READCO, said in an email that his company, which purchased the property under the name Readco New London LLC, had lots of offers for the Citizens Bank building, but High Tide Capital “came to us with a vision. A vision for New London.”
Davidson said plans for the Citizens Bank and Day offices will be envisioned as a combined development. But while The Day building won’t be vacated for at least six months, he said, plans for the vacant bank offices will be able to move along more quickly.
He hoped to have a plan to present to the public by this fall or early winter, but promised any development would maintain the historic integrity of the bank building.
“You couldn’t build that today even if you wanted to, at any price,” he said of the elegant building that includes vaulted ceilings, marble floors and decorative woodwork.
Mayor Michael Passero said in an interview at his City Hall office that he was enthusiastic about the purchase.
“They’re creative and doing great work in the city,” Passero said. “We think they’re a great developer.”
He added that the first of High Tide Capital’s three Riverbank project buildings on Bank Street is practically sold out in a very short period of time. That project contains a mix of condominiums and commercial space.
“They are a different type of developer that is perfectly matched for New London,” READCO’s Lech said. “They have already invested tens of millions into the city, and the byproduct is less vacancy and more vibrancy.”
“High Tide Capital has a great track record in New London,” added Laura Natusch, executive director of the historic preservation group New London Landmarks, in a phone interview.
“High Tide Capital’s investment in our city is particularly beneficial because, in addition to preserving historic buildings, they look for other ways to contribute to the public good,“ she added in a follow-up email. ”I love that they’ll be creating mixed-income apartments here – with the majority being affordable – and that they’ll reserve some space for a museum about The Day.”
Davidson said when prompted that the bank building might be a perfect place for a downtown restaurant. But before any plans are formulated, he said his firm has to assess the site’s environmental, physical, structural and zoning challenges.
He said High Tide’s newly acquired property serves as the “front door to the city” as it starts to incorporate the wind-turbine assembly business just under way at State Pier and the under-construction National Coast Guard Museum nearby.
“We’re trying to think of creative uses for it,” he said.
“The Citizens Bank Building is a marquee asset in (southeastern Connecticut) and a significant 150-year-old landmark in New London,” READCO’s Lech said. “They are not just a buyer, they are clearly the next stewards who will take a holistic approach to Eugene O’Neill Drive.”