The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced Wednesday that it will invest $7 million to renovate Seaside State Park, a coastline park that many in southeastern Connecticut believe has been forgotten by the state for a decade.
The funding is part of Governor Ned Lamont’s Restore CT State Parks plan. The $7 million will fund the removal of the historic buildings at the park and make the area accessible for the public.
“Taking that space that, right now…seems forgotten and investing so that people really can enjoy the access to Long Island Sound,” said Mason Trumble, DEEP deputy commissioner. “We are taking this moment to move forward, commit the funding, and really get started.”
Nearly 10 Years Later – Why Did Seaside Go by the Wayside?
Seaside State Park is tucked away along Connecticut’s shoreline in Waterford. From one vantage point, looking out to the Long Island Sound, it has one of the best views a state park can offer.
“When you start talking about million-dollar views, Seaside has it,” said Rob Brule, Waterford’s first selectman. “And then you turn around behind me and you see that there is a million dollars’ worth of work to do.”
Seaside State Park used to be a recovery center for tuberculosis patients. It was later used as a human services and healthcare facility. The property is home to several buildings recorded on the National Register of Historic Places.
Designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, the buildings now sit in disrepair. Windows on the buildings are broken and bricks are missing.
Former governor Dannel Malloy designated Seaside as a state park in 2014. In the years since, the state has held public meetings, created a master plan and conducted environmental impact studies. There have also been efforts to privately develop the park, but nothing has changed at the property.
The state published a master plan in 2015 with three options, one of which would have created a destination park and preserved the historic assets.
In 2018, the state put out a request for proposals. In July of the following year, the process concluded with no award. That was the last public update on the progress of the park.
Since then, the park has sat virtually untouched. Video of Seaside from DroneRanger in 2018 is nearly identical to video shot in 2023.
After the 2019 request for proposal process concluded with no award, the state applied for a federal grant last year. It was unsuccessful.
“We have been looking for funding for this project. Any of the options in the plan are expensive and so we are trying to improve the park in a way that is best investment of our state dollars,” Trumble said.
As time has moved on with no improvements, frustration has grown in Waterford.
“I’ll be dead before they finish this park,” said Robert Marelli, who lives nearby.
NBC Connecticut spoke with Waterford’s first selectman before the state made its announcement. He called the property one of the most beautiful in town, along with one of the most frustrating.
“I just don’t want to continue to see another eight years of nothing. Another eight years of an attractive nuisance,” Brule said.
Brule said he was thankful for past visits from the governor and his administration, but wanted to see the state take action.
“There is a lot to this property,” Brule said. “And it can be something better.”
State Representative Kathleen McCarty (R-Waterford) is also passionate about the park. Before DEEP announced its funding source, McCarty introduced a bill to authorize state bonds for renovating the grounds at Seaside.
“This property has been let go for quite a while and time is urgent,” McCarty said.
New Chapter for Seaside State Park – What’s Next?
The state has a concept plan for Seaside. Now, it must get a formal design. The entire process will take years, Trumble said.
As DEEP moves forward, the agency hopes to work with the public on the design.
“We would like to engage Friends of Seaside State Park and members of the local community on what, within the boundaries of the passive park plan, some of the ways that we can mitigate the memory of the historic buildings and develop the park and design the park in a way that truly benefits the public,” Trumble said.
After years of unfulfilled plans for Seaside, the state said this time is different.
“The difference is that we do have funding that we are devoting to this project,” Trumble said. “Through those federal ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] dollars that provides us with an opportunity to do something that we were not able to do before.”
The state’s trouble with Seaside started long before 2014. The state sought to sell the property in 2009.
A private developer agreed to buy the site for $8 million with plans to build luxury housing for people 55 and older. The plans later changed to a destination hotel. But the project hit several snags, and the contract was terminated when Malloy designated Seaside a state park.
The developer has filed a lawsuit in Connecticut Superior Court.
DEEP declined to comment on the lawsuit. In court, the state argued that the developer failed to acquire the necessary zoning approval. The case is pending.