NAUGATUCK — The abandoned Peter Paul factory, a community landmark that was once an integral part of borough life, is gone.
A foundation and piles of rubble are the only traces of the 253,000-square-foot brick and glass building on which so many depended for jobs, economic security and the smell of chocolate down New Haven Road.
Borough officials said Hershey, the candy production company based in Pennsylvania, decided last year to demolish the factory, which once was the only place that Mounds and Almond Joy candies were produced, to make the 36-acre property more marketable. As far as officials know, Hershey has not found a buyer for the parcel at 889 New Haven Road.
Meanwhile, residents who would like to see something new and profitable, in place of a symbol of lost jobs and economic depression, are in limbo.
“The Peter Paul factory is an emotional facility for the people of Naugatuck, just like Uniroyal and the major corporate citizens here over the years that were the lifeblood of the community,” said David Prendergast, CEO of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. “People are sad to see those changes.”
Prendergast, whose corporation manages projects for the borough as its designated economic development agency, said although he is in contact with the real estate broker selling the property, he has not been informed of a potential buyer. The broker, Matt O’Hare of C.B. Richard Ellis, has set a $9.5 million price on the property, down from the $11.5 million price set in 2008, Prendergast said.
O’Hare last week did not return calls seeking comment.
The factory’s demolition also means lost tax revenue for the borough. As of July 2012, Hershey will no longer have to pay taxes on the building, which would cost the borough $44,354 under this year’s mill rate, Tax Assessor George Hlavacek said.
If the rate stays the same, Hershey will still have to pay $83,490 in land taxes, but the loss of revenue from the building is another blow, Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said.
“Any time you have a building of that size come off your tax rolls, it’s not a good thing,” Mezzo said.
After Hershey closed the plant in 2007, laying off 220 employees to move production to Virginia, borough officials tried to insist the property remain industrial. Manufacturing companies are a better source of revenue for the borough than commercial ones because they bring expensive, taxable machinery and electronic equipment, Mezzo said.
One local frozen food manufacturer was interested in buying the plant, which was built in the 1940s, and another man offered to buy it and lease parts of it at a low cost to small startup companies, Prendergast said. Hershey’s asking price, however, was too high for an industrial buyer, and the property became another casualty of declining manufacturing in New England, borough officials said.
“It wasn’t really practical, given the marketplace, that you’d get an industrial user come in and purchase the property and do what was necessary to upgrade the building,” said Mezzo, a charter member of the NEDC.
Hershey officials said in 2007 retail developers were interested in purchasing the property. After the Zoning Commission refused to change the parcel to a commercial zone, Hershey sued the commission and the borough, and the commission changed the zoning to avoid a legal battle.
The zone change would have cleared the way for a project Hershey presented the borough called Naugatuck Commons, which consisted of three retail buildings housing unnamed tenants. At the time, officials thought a Lowe’s home improvement center, a small steak house and a third small store would fill those spots.
As the recession hit in 2008, however, Hershey announced it no longer had a potential buyer.
Prendergast said he would like to see the facility developed as a small industrial park.
“I would guess that Hershey has the ability to wait for the new retail market to come back, and find a buyer in the range that they are looking for,” Prendergast said. “If someone wanted a corporate headquarters, that’s not a bad site.”
The property could also house an information technology or biomedical facility, Zoning Commission Chairman Joseph Savarese said. The commission would try to move forward quickly to accommodate a potential buyer.
“Somebody may pop up tomorrow,” Savarese said. “I’d love to see it. And then again, it may be another year.”