STONINGTON — Elected officials and members of the Stonington Community Rowing Center and Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee are partnering in an effort to develop and implement a phased construction plan for Mystic Boathouse Park that would allow the community to take advantage of more than $750,000 in state aid.
The implementation committee and members of the Board of Finance, who were also joined by volunteers with SCRC, met for the first time this week as the town looks to take advantage of a state brownfield grant that was approved last month.
First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said the goal is to "hit the ground running" when the town formally receives the funding at the end of August. She said due to time constraints and grant conditions, the partnership will allow officials and volunteers to use several funding sources to help complete the project in a more timely fashion.
"There is still a lot of work to be done before we are ready to set a timeline or begin any physical construction on the site," Chesebrough said. "Part of the next stage here will be to continue talking with the state over the next several weeks and come to an agreement so we can move forward in going out for an RFP (a request for proposals) on different aspects of the project."
The $753,889 brownfield remediation grant, which was awarded through the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development last month along with a smaller grant to identify remediation needs at the Stillman Avenue mill site, is expected to primarily cover costs associated with site cleanup, such as removal of contaminated soil, shoreline restoration, and development of both a parking area and public boat ramp.
Officials said $508,481 remaining from the town’s 2016 bonding will also be used to help fund park lighting, stormwater management and a floating dock during the first phase of construction.
The town will then need to reconsider some of its original plans by reassigning elements of the project to redevelop the Rossie Velvet Mill into the Mystic River Boathouse Park into later phases, Chesebrough said. Part of the initial reduction in spending was done in order to allow the town to be more competitive in seeking the grant.
The state Department of Economic and Community Development approved 31 of the 52 applications submitted in 2021, offering a total of $19 million to 23 cities and towns across Connecticut.
“We had a great team working hard to ensure we could put forward the best application possible. We are so grateful for these state funds, without which the park could not proceed," Chesebrough said. "We will need to identify further areas for funding, such as grants and private donations, in order to complete some of the components of the initial park plan.”
She said that some of the aspects which would likely need to wait include the planned boardwalk on the park perimeter, plaza pavers and a planting bed around the boathouse.
Chesebrough said project organizers have also gotten a boost from other organizations, including administration with Mystic Seaport. Chesebrough and Mike O'Neill, president of the Stonington Community Rowing Center, said in a news release that Seaport staff has offered use of parking to aid in the park's development.
According to officials, the Mystic Seaport Museum offered 30 parking spots for overflow parking near its north entrance behind its Collections Research Center, located directly across from the proposed site for the boathouse park.
“In addition to the 14 parking spots planned at the boathouse park, these additional spots will help us accommodate visitors and rowers who are enjoying the property,” O'Neill said.
Chesebrough said the town and SCRC officials are also working to finalize the lease agreement between the Town and SCRC, which she noted has served as the primary fundraiser in seeking funds to build a boathouse on the property and make improvements to the historic home that will remain on the site.
Town officials are hopeful that plans will be in place by the end of August to begin moving forward as soon as possible on physical remediation and construction at the site once the state funding is received. Chesebrough said the committee, SCRC and Board of Selectmen plan to meet at the start of September to reevaluate timelines and begin setting plans in motion.
"This was the first step this week in really getting everyone together to begin really moving forward," Chesebrough said. "We are beginning to get things all rowing in the right direction, and we look forward to seeing how things develop from here."