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NORWICH, CT-Although actual construction is not set to begin until July 17, a host of state and city officials as well as representatives of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation were on hand Tuesday (July 9) for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the $18.9-million Mercantile Exchange at Chelsea Harbor project.

The development will be a mix of office and retail development on Main and Water streets in downtown Norwich. The project will entail a new office building featuring 77,887 sf of class A office space and 5,898 sf of retail space. The venture will also include an enclosed parking facility. A separate, 129-space, two-level parking complex will also be constructed across the street as part of the project.

At the ceremony, which was held at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park, Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland said, “The start of the Mercantile Exchange project marks an important step forward in revitalizing historic downtown Norwich and I believe marks the beginning of an economic development renaissance in the Rose City.”

The Norwich Community Development Corp. is renting the building to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation as master tenant, which has already signed a 20-year lease for the entire complex. Under the terms of its lease, the Tribal Nation has the right to rent out or sublease to additional tenants any and all portions of the building. The Norwich Community Development Corp. will be managing the project.

Konover Office and Industrial Corp. of West Hartford has been retained to assist in the leasing of the project, according to Beth Judd, a vice president with the firm.

The construction of the office building is expected to be completed by August 2003.

“This is a unique partnership that the Tribal Nation, the state and city have entered into, and we’re very happy to be a part of it,” said Kenneth Reels, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. “This partnership is an excellent example of how all of us can work together to contribute to the growth of jobs and opportunity in Norwich and the state.”

Cedric Woods, a spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, says that the Tribe is working on establishing tenants for the property and calculating how much office space the Tribe will require. No parties involved in the deal would comment on whether any lease deals had been signed as yet.

Six banks, including People’s Bank, Liberty Bank, Dime Savings Bank of Norwich, Eastern Federal Bank, Banknorth Connecticut, and The Savings Institute, are providing financing of $11.8 million. The State of Connecticut, through the Department of Economic and Community Development, is providing $6.15 million and the City of Norwich is providing $800,000 plus land valued at $200,000.

Norwich Mayor Arthur L. Lathrop, commented on the project by saying, “Not only will the Mercantile Exchange bring people to our downtown, but it will also be a catalyst for future revitalization. Architecturally, it will complement one of Connecticut’s most beautiful Victorian downtowns.”

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