NAUGATUCK — After years of plans and fundraising efforts, the future of Building 25, the former central office for the U.S. Rubber Co. and Uniroyal Chemical Co., remains uncertain pending decisions on federal grant funding and the Renaissance Place downtown revitalization project.
The Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. applied for a $1.6 million grant in August from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help restore the borough-owned building. The project would cost $2.5 million overall.
“If the grant is not successful, or even if it’s approved and the local portion can’t be put together, then we have some decisions collectively, as a community, we have to make,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said.
The EDA was supposed to decide on the application last fall, but has not yet done so, officials said.
The federal agency has been operating under temporary congressional resolutions that do not allow for much grant funding, said David Prendergast, CEO of the NEDC.
“They have not done anything and we are in the queue,” Prendergast said. “We need to get some feedback from our congressional delegation and from EDA, and we’ll talk to our consultants.”
The grant application calls for part of the building to be used as incubator office space to support a proposed medical building on the corner of Maple and Water Streets, which would mark the start of Renaissance Place. The NEDC and the Naugatuck Historical Society would move from the former train station, which could house a restaurant, to Building 25. The grant would also pay for construction of an exit onto Maple Street between the building and Town Hall, which would connect to a ramp garage the borough intends to build if developer Alexius Conroy secures a contract for a 30,000-square-foot medical building.
Conroy has said Saint Mary’s Hospital will occupy the medical building, but no lease has yet been signed. The medical building and parking garage have been planned as the first phase of the $710 million Renaissance Place project. Conroy, the project’s exclusive developer, is working under a 2007 development agreement with the borough and the NEDC that is set to end in May if privately-funded construction has not begun.
NEDC officials have said the agreement could be interpreted to mean Conroy has until May to secure a lease with the hospital, adding that the building must span at least 30,000 square feet to warrant public investment in a ramp garage. Hospital executives have said they only want 15,000 square feet of space.
Negotiations with the hospital have stalled Renaissance Place, delaying action on Building 25 as well.
“This project fits nicely into the types of projects the EDA would fund, but it’s also reliant on the other development occurring in a complementary fashion,” Mezzo said.
To restore Building 25, new floors and work on the stairways will be needed, Prendergast said. The building also needs to be brought up to fire safety and handicapped-accessibility codes. The building will need elevators and handicapped bathrooms, among a long list of other improvements, Prendergast said.
Built in 1895, the building was once part of a network of rubber manufacturing buildings that covered the borough’s downtown. It has sat vacant since 1979, when Uniroyal closed. The building spans 7,000 square feet with two floors, a loft and a basement, and is appraised at more than $300,000. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
A drive that began in 1994 netted a $500,000 state grant and raised at least $100,000 in donations so the historical society could restore the building. The society spent about $7,000 of that money five years ago to winterize the structure.
Plans to commercially develop the train station could move forward even if the agreement with Conroy ends, but the historical society is not facing a specific deadline to move, Mezzo said.
Wendy Murphy, president of the historical society, said the group has not tried to raise money for Building 25 for years. A committee of town officials and historical society members dedicated to restoring the building is scheduled to meet again in the spring, Murphy said.
“All of our fundraising and the Building 25 plans have been put on hold until the Renaissance Place plans have been locked in,” Murphy said. “We need to know what we’re using funds for, first.”
Some have proposed the historical society move into the Bronson B. Tuttle House on Church Street, a historic building the Board of Education will vacate in three years for offices in a newly renovated high school.
Murphy said the historical society has not completely explored that option.
“I think we would certainly work with the town to make sure that building was preserved,” Murphy said.