NAUGATUCK — The fate of the last remaining building from the Uniroyal Rubber Company is still up in the air.
The Maple St. building known as Building 25 still sits empty and neglected despite efforts by the Naugatuck Historical Society to raise money for its restoration.
Threatened to be torn down during Mayor Tim Barth’s administration in the 1990s, the Historical Society managed to raise $600,000, with $500,000 coming from a state grant. The Society used part of the money to stabilize the building and prevent its destruction.
However, this was not enough to pay for the museum the society hoped to construct in the building.
To some, the building is an important historical landmark, but to others, it’s an eyesore.
The building, built in 1895, was once the central office for Goodyear’s India Rubber Glove Manufacturing Co., which began in Naugatuck in 1847.
“After the United States Rubber Co. was founded, the building served as the Central Office for the entire facility in Naugatuck, and subsequently, Uniroyal, until that company closed in 1979,” according to an article by Martha Ann Simons, Past-President Naugatuck Historical Society.
The rubber industry once dominated Naugatuck’s landscape.
“When I was a kid, there were buildings like that all around downtown,” Naugatuck Mayor Bob Mezzo said.
Some people think building should be taken down. It was mentioned as a blighted building in debates over Naugatuck’s new blight ordinance, Citizen’s News previously reported.
“I do think that our past is important. If there’s any way to restore that building and also create some jobs in the process, I think we should exhaust those possibilities,” he said.
The money from state is still sitting in an account, waiting for the borough to come forward with a plan to restore the building, according to Mezzo.
He said the building will probably cost $1.5 to 2 million to restore.
Building 25 will be part of the plans for Renaissance Place, a mixed-use development meant to revitalize downtown Naugatuck along the Naugatuck River. The building sits on Parcel C, an empty industrial site currently undergoing a remediation process to clean the contaminated soil to residential standards. The cleaning, now in its third attempt since the 1990s, should be completed by the end of the year, according to Mezzo.
“We’re going to do it right this time,” he said.
The borough and Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation (NEDC) are currently trying to tailor application to U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to seek funding to restore building 25, Mezzo said.
The borough’s plans for the building, in conjunction with plans for Renaissance Place, meet EDA standards for responsible economic development, Mezzo said.
They hope to revitalize building and investigate the creation of incubator office space with a medical theme to complement the proposed medical office building that would be built next to it by Conroy Development, Mezzo said. The incubator space would create offices with shared common areas for fledgling businesses to get off the ground. Restoring the building would created jobs and improve infrastructure, qualities the EDA likes, said Mezzo.
Such a renovation would also include the relocation of the historical society and the NEDC into Building 25. That would free up the borough-owned railroad station at 195 Water St., where Historical Society is currently located, for private development.
“That’s been our intention since day one to make the building the real home for the historical society,” said Charles Marino, president of the Historical Society.
This is one of several proposals over the years, including a plan for the Historical Society to have two museums, with Building 25 concentrating on the rubber industry, and some interest by the Seven Angels Theater to reconstruct part of Building 25 into a black box theater capable of seating 200 people, the Citizen’s News previously reported.
“Our primary goal has always been the restoration of Building 25,” said Mezzo.
He said that doing something with the building is essential because once Conroy Development completes the brand new state of the art medical office building on Water St., blighted Building 25, right next to it, will stick out even more in contrast. With plans for Renaissance Place moving along, plans for Building 25 must as well.
“We’re getting to a point where we can talk about construction in the near future for Renaissance Place,” said Mezzo.
Unlike other towns, which have canceled or postponed similar projects because of the economy, the borough, NEDC, and Conroy Development are working in partnership to make sure this project comes to fruition, Mezzo said.
Although some residents are frustrated with the pace of the project, which was passed in referendum in 2007, just as the recession hit, the fact that the project is still alive is an accomplishment, Mezzo said.
“We haven’t been simply waiting for better days. We’ve been doing a lot of work,” Mezzo said.
He said they were doing all the work necessary to prepare before the project moves into its construction phase. The development agreement outlining everyone’s obligations was approved by all three partners, Mezzo said.
“If we want to do a project of this size and complexity, it does take time,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo said the extra time such a big project takes is worth the economic benefits it will eventually bring. Whereas big box stores might provide a more immediate economic benefit, Renaissance Place will provide spill-over benefits to surrounding businesses and bring up property values in Naugatuck.
“People will want to be there,” Mezzo said.