NEW LONDON — “One thing about New London is there are quite a few investors — and they’re called investors for a reason — but it doesn’t mean they’re doers,” said contractor David Preka.
“Buying a piece of property and letting it stay as is just because you’re an investor and you’re waiting for an opportunity — that really hurts the city,” he complained. “It hurts the people around it, not just in New London, anywhere around. Unfortunately New London seems to be held a little bit hostage with a few of those.”
Preka, 38, owns Advanced Group, a residential and commercial builder and remodeler.
Four years ago, he bought two connecting buildings at 90 Bank Street. Last month he purchased 42 Bank Street, the downstairs home of Muddy Waters Café and the upstairs offices of Ørsted, which Advanced Group also renovated.
Preka bought the Muddy Waters Café business and said he will keep the same staff and menu.
“We’re changing nothing. It will be the same people and the same food. I think coffee is a need,” he laughed.
He said when he buys a building, he immediately goes to work to improve it rather than letting it sit as an investment.
“That’s where we take pride — we are doers. We take something and we do it,” he said.
Preka founded Advanced Group 20 years ago when he immigrated from Albania. The company has about 15 employees and locations in Mystic, City of Groton and Town of Groton.
“We’re large enough, but small enough to accommodate projects like a bathroom or a kitchen all the way to large scale whole rehab — a bank or a medical facility,” said Preka, who is a board member of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Eastern Connecticut.
As of March, he also has a wood shop tucked around the back of 90 Bank Street in the basement of the 1860 building where his crew has been building custom kitchen cabinets, modern staircases and anything else his clients have needed since the pandemic struck.
“We used to get a kitchen in three weeks, now you’re lucky if you get it in five to eight weeks,” said Preka, “We would normally buy it from a manufacturer, but given the delays and the high cost of the building product, we improvised and said, okay, what can we still do in that time — how can we beat the times and make the things that we needed so that at least we can control the timing?”
Preka is rehabbing the upper floors of 90 Bank Street into eight “New York style” luxury apartments, some with water views. The apartments, potentially available in Spring of 2021, will be from 800 to 1,200 square feet and rent from $1,500 to $2,000 per month. Preka said the apartments will be soundproof and energy-efficient.
He said the building at 90 Bank Street, which currently has a mural with symbols of Albania painted along the alley wall, was in rough shape when he bought it, bad enough to dissuade other buysers.
“I always like to play tomorrow’s music today and I really like to take on challenges. Other people came and looked and they couldn’t do it, but I said I’m open for a challenge,” said Preka.
He said 42 Bank Street, built in 1833, shares a number of long-term maintenance and structural issues with 90 Bank St.
“The infrastructure is sort of like a baby, they need a lot of maintenance and if you don’t do the maintenance then you can expect to have more or larger maintenance issues. The longer it goes, the more you are looking to invest and spend,” he said. “It’s a lesson for everyone who doesn’t know — or who knows and doesn’t want to practice it — is don’t let it go beyond that time because the savings you create for yourself is huge. You would end up spending three times more [if you put it off].”
Preka said eastern Connecticut, and New London in particular, is the most undiscovered treasure in the world.
“Where in the world would you go where you have a train station, a small airport, a ferry, a bus [terminal], I-95, the Coast Guard museum coming in here. It has so much to it. A lot of people are slowly realizing it — it has everything,” he said.