Event center opens in grand fashion

Neil Barenbaun, right, of Bristol, talks with Paul Teutul, Jr., left, one of the stars of the reality television series ‘American Chopper’ and co-founder of Orange County Choppers, March 25 during the Cabin Fever Indoor Custom Car and Motorcycle Show at the Naugatuck Event Center. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The first event at the newly-dubbed Naugatuck Event Center proved to be a huge success, and more events are in the works.

The center, the former General DataComm building on Rubber Avenue, officially opened the weekend of March 25 with the Cabin Fever Indoor Custom Car and Motorcycle Show. The show drew 10,000 people over two days, according to Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess.

Hess the borough is splitting the revenue from the show with Don Clady, who owns Connecticut Cruise News and organized the show with the borough.

This past weekend, the center hosted the Kids Fun Fair & Zoo. The borough received a $5,000 rental fee for using the center.

Now that the word is out about the center, Hess said, the borough has received numerous requests from organizations and businesses to use center. These include a comic convention, trade shows and craft shows.

“People are reaching out to us and we haven’t established our pricing and our policies yet. We’re in the process of evaluating potential offers and working on a plan to make it a profitable operation,” Hess said.

However, the events are only a place-holder for the long-term development plans for the site.

The borough owns the building and adjacent parking lot, known locally as parcels A and B, and has an agreement in place with Benjamin Zitron to develop the land. The plan calls for Zitron’s New Haven-based Sustainable Development Corp. to build a mixed-use, transit-oriented development on the property.

While using the building as an event center has proven to be lucrative so far, Hess said, the borough plans to honor the contract with Zitron.

The sale of the property is tied to the remediation of the land, relocating the train station from Water Street to the site, and upgrades to the Waterbury branch line for more frequent train service.

“The exact date of when that will happen is uncertain. So I made the decision to not wait and begin using the building now to generate revenue and to make the building more valuable,” Hess said.

Hess said Zitron is happy about the building being used for events.

“He’s very excited about the fact that we are proving that Naugatuck is a destination. The best example I can give you is that, if you were at the [car show] and walked around the parking lot, you would have seen that the license plates were from all over, including New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Vermont,” Hess said.

The borough spent the two months preparing the building for the car show, including removing junk, repainting walls, upgrading fire safety equipment, and installing WiFi. There was also work done to the floors, lighting and electrical system.

The borough plans to fix up the second floor as well, Hess said.

“Right now we are working on the exiting, the fire marshal’s requirements, the building inspector’s requirements and issues of that nature,” Hess said.

Once it is open, the second floor could host a variety of events, such as Zumba, laser tag, bumper cars, or movies, Hess said.

“We are keeping all of our options open. It could be larger events, such as the Cabin Fever show, or it could be other uses. We have a lot of businesses approaching us that want to go into the building as well,” Hess said.

Hess said the work at the building is being done by borough employees and volunteers.

“It’s not that it doesn’t cost anything, but it is not like we are paying a contractor,” Hess said. “We are using all of our resources locally and getting a lot of volunteers to help us upgrade the building. Everyone is very excited about the building and everyone is pitching in and helping any way they can. So it is really a fun project for me, for the town’s staff, and for the volunteers.”

As the event center becomes more popular, he added, the borough could open the third and fourth floors.

“The limitation we have is that we are not going to be spending a lot of money to do the whole building at once. We are going to do it piece by piece and use our profits to make the upgrades,” Hess said. “Keeping in mind we may ultimately just sell the building, we are not going to expend large sums of money on the building.”

Hess said the events have a positive impact on local businesses.

He said vendors and participants at the car show stayed at local hotels, ate at local restaurants, and got gas at local gas stations.

“I can tell you that every food vendor at the show not only did well at the show but told me many people from the show went back to their restaurants,” Hess said. “Downtown was really booming on both days of the show.”