Interest shown in GDC property

Possible tenants looking to lease building space, parking lot

Naugatuck is looking to lease the parking lot at General DataComm as well as the building, both seen here. Officials say someone is interested in leasing space in the building, and that they are in discussions with people about possibly leasing the parking lot. –RA ARCHIVE

Naugatuck is looking to lease the parking lot at General DataComm as well as the building, both seen here. Officials say someone is interested in leasing space in the building, and that they are in discussions with people about possibly leasing the parking lot. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — More than a year after borough officials agreed to spend $2 million on property downtown for future economic development, it appears there may be hope for leasing some of that property.

Ron Pugliese, CEO of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation, said there are possible tenants interested in leasing space in the General DataComm building at 6 Rubber Ave. And officials will meet soon with someone interested in leasing land known as Parcel B, the parking lot of the GDC property that runs along Old Firehouse Road.

“There is someone very interested in the GDC building who has already made a proposal,” said Pugliese, adding that he would not talk about details until a deal is settled upon for fear of harming negotiations. “To me, this is a great addition if we can get everything done that we have to.”

The GDC building, the abutting parking lot and the vacant property on the corner of Maple and Water streets known as Parcel C have long been the focal points of economic development efforts for the NEDC and local government officials. They believe those parcels are key to revitalizing downtown and that if the right tenants — those that complement the current businesses, as opposed to big-box stores — go into those lots then it could be positive for all downtown businesses and taxpayers.

Borough officials are still trying to chart a new path for revitalization after cutting ties with a long-term downtown development plan: a four-phase, $710 million project known as Renaissance Place. Its developer, Alexius Conroy, promised to recreate downtown with a mix of retail storefronts, office space and upscale condos and apartments, as well as other amenities such as a movie theater. After more than five years of planning, that project fizzled about two years ago in the midst of a sluggish economy; Conroy could not line up financial backers.

Naugatuck is not looking at any future projects near that size and scope. But the Renaissance Place concepts of smart growth remain: Officials are looking for a downtown where people “live, work and play.”

Over the past year, a borough engineer, Steve Pustola, had expressed interest in developing on both the GDC property and on Parcel C. He had planned a smaller scale, mixed-use development — including housing, retail and office space — on Parcel C and was drawing up plans for Parcel B. Pustola has not spoken publicly about those plans, other than to confirm that he had been in discussions with local officials.

Pugliese said discussions have continued with Pustola, but there is no agreement for development at this point. The borough is keeping its options open, Pugliese said.

The development process, especially when the public sector is involved, can run at a snail’s pace — from finding the right developer and tenants, to getting environmental permits for reuse and securing financing. Borough officials say they are just as anxious as the general public to bring development to downtown. Pugliese remains the eternal optimist.

“I think if we can get everything done that we need to get this tenant into the GDC building, it will be a great addition that will lure others,” he said. “My feeling is you can’t get a second tenant until you have the first.”

He is also optimistic about finally tearing down the dilapidated building next to Town Hall known as Building 25 — a former hub of the old rubber industry in Naugatuck. The Naugatuck Historical Society had planned to renovate that building into a museum for the rubber industry, but the building has deteriorated after sitting vacant for decades. Now, the only logical thing to do is to tear it down, local officials say.

That would not only remove what has become an eyesore in downtown, but also make way for a new road and make Parcel C more attractive to developers.

The current plan is to get the state’s permission to tear down Building 25 — that is necessary because it’s on the National Registry of Historic Places — and to salvage pieces of the building that could be added in a new historical society building. The Tuttle House at 380 Meadow St., which currently houses the Board of Education offices, will become the historical society’s museum when the newly renovated Naugatuck High School opens in 2015 and the administrative offices move to the high school. The pieces of the building that are salvageable, such as door frames and stained-glass windows, will be added into the Tuttle House.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the borough’s goal in the downtown redevelopment initiative is to shape its own destiny.

That, in fact, was the borough’s goal when Naugatuck agreed to purchase the GDC building, Mezzo said.

He has written on his blog (www.bobmezzo.com): “It is unlikely the economics of redeveloping the site would work for any private developer, without financial assistance to remediate the property from the public sector. In essence, the property will never redevelop to any productive use without the borough’s investment. … While there is disappointment that Renaissance Place did not come to fruition, the borough’s acquisition of the GDC property is a game-changer for the future of Naugatuck’s urban core.”

Now that the game has changed, borough officials are awaiting the outcome.

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