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Developer of Studio, Theme Park Has More Big Plans

Fri September 01, 2006 - Northeast Edition
CEG



NORWICH, CT (AP) The developer of a $1.6-billion movie studio and theme park project has big plans for eastern Connecticut, calling for a marina and construction in Norwich of 37-story luxury towers with restaurants and condominiums.

Joseph Gentile, the developer of Utopia Studios, said that Norwich and New London are among the cities along the Thames River he plans to revitalize as economic hubs to support the Utopia project.

“We’re providing the anchors that are going to be the catalysts, and we’re hoping that local developers and local business owners are going to fill in the rest,” Gentile said.

Utopia Studios, based in Melville, NY, intends to build movie studios, a climate-controlled theme park, hotels and an arts school on the former Norwich Hospital property. The project, which was approved by Preston voters last May, is estimated by developers at bringing between 8 and 10 million visitors a year and employing 22,000 workers.

Gentile presented plans for what Norwich officials called an unprecedented $500-million development project that would transform the city into a tourist area and transportation hub to serve Utopia Studios.

Gentile has not disclosed his financial backers.

Norwich City Manager Robert Zarnetske said one of the issues “that obviously will have to be dealt with is the financial planning behind this.”

“So far we have not been privy to any financial information,” he said.

While the master plan is evolving, Ronald Aliano, a partner in a major portion of the project, said two buildings on the marina property would be replaced with two 37-story luxury towers, each with a restaurant at the top and views that could reach Long Island Sound. One would be a full-service luxury hotel with a nightclub at the top and the other a condominium.

Gentile said film actors, crew and others could stay at the condominiums for several months while working on movies at the Preston studios. Other condos might be purchased.

The marina also would include retail shops and other restaurants, Aliano said.

Gentile hoped to be named as master preferred developer for much of downtown and the waterfront, taking control of several city-owned buildings and at least one city street. He said he would cap the city’s landfill to provide parking, update the city’s Norwich treatment plant and provide other services.

Gentile also said he would like to take over the Norwich portion of the Norwich Hospital property for dormitories for thousands of students who would attend a performing arts college in Preston.

And he said he has plans for New London following development in Norwich. He would not be specific, calling it a “diamond-shaped marine pattern that starts and ends in New London.”

He said his plans in Norwich and New London are to take advantage of underused areas such as freight train railroad tracks, harbors and vacant buildings.

“I’m a big believer in taking the assets you have to work with and just dressing them up,” he said.