Laura’s Landing buyer, a Norwich native, plans to spruce up the building and move in

Laura’s Landing buyer, a Norwich native, plans to spruce up the building and move in

Record-Journal

STONINGTON — His current address is Glendale, Calif., but Philip Becker, the new owner of the former Laura’s Landing building in downtown Pawcatuck, wants people to know he’s really a local guy who spent lots of time on the beaches in Misquamicut.

“I’m not from California. I’m not some California guy who’s coming in to tear something down and change everything,” Becker said during a phone interview Friday morning. He said he’s willing to work with the town to help revitalize the commercial area of Pawcatuck, including restoring the property’s dock along the Pawcatuck river as part of the long envisioned riverwalk.

“I’m from Norwich. I’ve had lots of bonfires and beer at the Westerly beaches in my day. I’m not a California person just stepping into Rhode Island. I always loved the Westerly beaches.”

Becker called The Sun after reading Thursday’s article to make sure he’s not seen as someone unfamiliar with the region. He had declined to speak with a reporter on Thursday.

Becker, who’s lived in California for 18 years, closed Tuesday on the property at 34 West Broad St., paying $360,000 to former owner Helene Fox Blackall, of Stonington, who had owned the property since 1994. The property, known originally as the Walton Block and built in 1922, includes 160 feet of frontage on the Pawcatuck River.

Becker graduated from Norwich Free Academy in 1960 and has had a varied career — working in the bond market, acting, and selling real estate. Mostly, however, he’s been a handyman, making a living doing odd jobs for people whenever his more steady work tailed off. He recently sold a building in California that had rental units, and he plans to move into the Pawcatuck property with his wife in the coming months.

He was back in the area over the summer, saw the “for sale” sign, and inquired.

“I went down to wander around to see what was available and it was love at first sight,” Becker said. “I’m hoping to live in it on the top floor — it has an incredible view. I want to put in a big picture window to look over Westerly and Stonington,” Becker said. That was something he envisioned while inspecting the roof.

“I was on the roof and said to myself, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, they’ve got a wall here?”

The building can accommodate about a half-dozen apartments on the upper two floors, he said. As for the first-floor commercial space, he’s open to ideas, noting a restaurant seems to be a natural fit. He said he’s also willing to work with the town on adding to the riverwalk next door at Donahue Park.

“It’s a great little area,” Becker said of the two-state downtown. “I know the town would like to extend the riverwalk and I would do whatever I could do to help that. If you could walk from the bridge to the park it would be a great thing.”

He acknowledged he has significant work ahead of him to restore the long-vacant building, including meeting FEMA requirements for the first floor.

Becker said he was told that others interested in the building wanted too many contingencies written into the sale agreement, but he was willing to take on the project with no contingencies.

“It’s right up my alley,” he said, noting that of all his career endeavors, he has most enjoyed working on buildings.

He said he had no idea about the recent change in zoning for downtown Pawcatuck, which is intended to encourage exactly what he’s trying to do. He said he just always felt the building should be spruced up, given its location on the border.

“I’ve gone under that train bridge 3,000 times coming back from the Westerly beaches,” Becker said, “and I say ‘What kind of introduction is this to Connecticut and the same from the other direction.’”

Becker said he plans to be in the area in the coming weeks to begin preparing for the cleanup while his wife looks for an accounting job in the area.

dtranchida@thewesterlysun.com


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