Original article from Claire Bessette of The Day | January 16, 2024 7:02 pm • Last Updated: January 16, 2024 9:49 pm
Norwich ― New York-based real estate developers Ernest and Alfred Tollja learned about Norwich in 2018 from a persistent Norwich comedian who drove to their comedy theater nearly every night and pressured them to buy a building in his hometown.
Six years later, the two brothers, originally from Albania, own more than a dozen apartment buildings in Norwich, with a total of 117 apartments. That comedian, however, has moved to upstate New York, the pair said Tuesday.
On Thursday, they completed the purchase of three prominent lower Broadway buildings that are part of a larger revitalization plan that includes a park and event space and street improvements, along with building renovations.
The Tolljas, under the ownership name, TT Investments LLC, purchased the vacant and decaying Fairhaven building at 26-28 Broadway and the vacant buildings at 51-53 Broadway and 59-61 Broadway ― the building with the colorful Metamorphosis mural facing City Hall ― for a combined price of $810,000. They obtained a $950,000 mortgage from GCCG Lending LLC.
The former owner, Stackstone Group, had started renovations, supported by a Norwich Downtown Revitalization Program grant, but ran out of money and abandoned the project. Stackstone had nearly completed renovations at 51-53 Broadway, with hardwood floors, appliances, washers and dryers in four apartments. The Tolljas plan to advertise them for rent next week.
The complex purchase required about 15 parties and about 50 phone calls between real estate brokerage firm, Seaport Realty of Mystic, banks that were poised to foreclose on Stackstone, the Norwich Community Development Corp., which pledged to continue matching grant support for the project, and a letter of support from Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom.
On the day of planned purchase closing, Dec. 15, a portion of the front façade on the Fairhaven building collapsed into the street. City crews cleaned up the mess, boarded up the front of the building and slapped a $31,483 lien on the property for the cost of the work. That delayed the closing nearly a month before the bank that held the Fairhaven mortgage agreed to pay off the lien, the parties said Tuesday.
At one point, in an effort to convince the bank to let the property go, Seaport real estate agent Kyle Schrader took the bank CEO on an online tour of the dilapidated Fairhaven with a flashlight, showing roof leaks, collapsed and decaying features.
NCDC President Kevin Brown credited Seaport, which serves as NCDC’s marketing brokerage for troubled Norwich properties, for its tenacity in getting the deal to the finish line.
Seaport real estate agent Dylan Grandeur said NCDC’s agreement to keep the remaining $205,000 Downtown Revitalization Program matching grant with the three buildings, along with $39,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act grant program, were critical to the deal’s success.
Seaport had put together a 180-page marketing packet on the three lower Broadway buildings, describing renovation plans on file, permit status, the city grant programs and the broader plan for improvements to the entire block.
Ernest Tollja said he and his brother saw the listing and contacted NCDC.
The Tolljas welcomed the city matching grant support and said they hope to complete renovations of the three buildings within six to nine months, adding a combined total of 29 apartments and three street-level commercial spaces to the downtown.
That timing fits perfectly with the city’s plan to apply for state grants through the Community Investment Fund to create the Jubilee Park and event space, make improvements to lower Broadway and for a grant to assist TT Investments with the as-yet-undetermined Fairhaven renovation cost.
NCDC used American Rescue Plan Act grant to hire the Yale Urban Design Workshop to create a plan for Jubilee Park and lower Broadway. The proposed Jubilee Park design was made public Tuesday by lead proponent Castle Church. Its pastor, Adam Bowles, said the plan release coincided with Tuesday being the National Day of Racial Healing.
Jubilee Park, dominated by a mural with giant images of prominent Black Norwich historic figures, carries the theme of racial equity. The Yale design plan calls for a terraced park with a glass enclosure in the current vacant gravel space for arts events, flea markets or other public gatherings.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, whose district includes Norwich, helped secure a $500,000 Urban Act grant to hire a firm to engineer the park plan and develop cost estimates to accompany the city’s Community Investment Fund grant application.
The Fairhaven building, now with its broken windows, sagging roof and decaying outdoor stairway, abuts the proposed park.
“We can’t talk about the park without somebody talking about the Fairhaven,” Bowles said Tuesday. “There’s no formal link, but if this becomes beautiful, and you’re looking at a building that’s about to fall down, it’s not going to work. It’s kind of a momentum builder.”
Including the three lower Broadway buildings, the Tollja brothers said their rental units in Norwich are either occupied or in final stages of renovations. The properties include several buildings on Boswell Avenue and buildings on Chestnut Street, Central Avenue, East Main Street and West Main Street, and buildings in Taftville.
During an interview Tuesday, the brothers said some people tried to dissuade them from the purchases, saying the locations were in the slum areas of Norwich. But coming from the Bronx in New York City, they said they thought Norwich’s historic downtown and mill villages looked beautiful.
“They are good people, working people,” Ernest Tollja said of the group’s Norwich tenants.

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Thrilled to see the coverage in The Day on the exciting developments in Norwich's real estate scene. Huge congrats to Dylan and Kyle from Seaport Real Estate for their instrumental role in this transformative project. Proud to be part of a team that's making such a positive impact in our community!

Posted by Andrew O'Reilly on Thursday, January 18th, 2024 at 4:18pm

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