The towns of Preston and Norwich are still seeking a developer for the former Norwich Hospital. Developers have until Dec. 1 to submit plans.

Bringing a Universal Studios-like movie studio and theme park to the area is still a possibility for southeastern Connecticut.

The neighboring towns of Preston and Norwich have hired a lawyer to receive and review development proposals for a 470-acre site that straddles the towns’ border. Boarded-up buildings still dot the site, which once housed Norwich Hospital, a state mental health facility that closed about 10 years ago.

The state owns the site, but offered it to the towns for $1. The towns scrambled to find a developer in September, when they first learned of the state’s offer, but the state extended the deadline for the towns to make their decisions after learning there wasn’t sufficient information about the environmental state of the grounds to transfer the land.

So the towns have until the middle of next year to make a decision, said Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon.

“We thought [the deadline] would come up quicker,” he said. “The 60 days [the state originally gave the towns to decide] got extended.”

And instead of doing the legwork themselves, they’ve hired New York law firm Seyforth Shaw to receive and review development proposals, Congdon said. They have given developers until Dec. 1 to submit proposals. Preliminary reports from the law firm have shown that the financial data of Utopia Studios – the company that would build a theme park and movie studio on the land – is satisfactory and that Utopia is ready to move onto the next step, Congdon said.

“So far, the Utopia proposal is the only one they have received [that has complete financial information],” he said.

Congdon did not have much information about the proposal and representatives from Utopia did not return phone calls.

Two other developers made proposals to the state before the state decided to sell the land, but neither was detailed enough and both lacked specific financial information. The Office of Policy and Management tried to develop the land for years. The office most recently put out a request for proposals in March of this year, hoping to attract a developer that would be right for the area. Some developers showed interest, but in the end none of the proposals were thorough enough and didn’t meet the requirements set forth in the request, said Mike Cicchetti, undersecretary at the Office of Policy and Management, in a September interview.

“None came close to supplying what we had asked for,” he noted.

But Utopia probably won’t be the only project on the table this time around, either.

“I think we’ll have two proposals from people who were not in the state’s process,” Congdon said.

The towns won’t reveal what the other two proposals are, but Congdon said they could be promising.

“They will be very interesting,” he said. “They would warrant strong consideration by the town.”

Selling the site is considered to be in the state’s best interest.

“It’s costing [the state] a lot of money,” Congdon said in September.

The state, as the owner of the land, makes payments in lieu of taxes that once constituted a large portion of Preston’s town coffers, Congdon said. But since most of the buildings have fallen into disrepair, the state has reduced its payments by about three-fourths, Congdon said.

The cleanup of the property also would be a major expense. The estimated cost is $40 million, Congdon said. Just maintaining the property as is costs money, as well, he said. Pipes all across the complex are leaking and, although the water is turned off, the leaks cost the state more than $250,000 in water bills every year. The state also mows at least part of the lawn, Congdon said.