Aligning the pieces of a project

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Developer gives informal presentation to Planning Commission

 

Joseph Migani, an architect and owner of the Seymour-based O’Riodan Migani Architects, addresses the Naugatuck Planning Commission on Monday about plans to redevelop the General DataComm building. –LUKE MARSHALL
Joseph Migani, an architect and owner of the Seymour-based O’Riodan Migani Architects, addresses the Naugatuck Planning Commission on Monday about plans to redevelop the General DataComm building. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — With the future of the General DataComm building in his hands, Joseph Migani has been taking strides toward turning a vision into a reality.

Migani, an architect and owner of the Seymour-based O’Riodan Migani Architects, brought his proposal to redevelop the four-story building on Rubber Avenue before the Planning Commission on Monday for an informal presentation.

“Right now this is an informal presentation asking for your input, your comments, and hopefully your blessing,” Migani said.

The plan for the project, named Art 6, calls for studio-style apartments for artists on the third and fourth floors, office space on the second floor and a mix of retail and parking for the first floor of the building.

Migani and his partner, Joan O’Riordan, were granted a six-month option on the building and 2.5 acres of land, known as Parcel A, in October. The option gives Art 6 LLC exclusive rights to develop the property and an option to buy it from the borough.

Monday marked the first time the project came before the commission, but a lot has been happening over the past three months.

Migani said he has met with the numerous state agencies, including the Department of Housing and the Department of Economic and Community Development, and has begun reverse engineering the project in order to fit within the guidelines of what those agencies would support.

“Believe it or not, it sounds simplistic, but that strategy has been having some success,” Migani said.

At the same time, Migani has been identifying where he can find funding — grants and loans — from the state and federal government.

Migani said he applied for a $250,000 transit oriented development grant in November. The grant would be awarded to the borough to pay for engineering analysis and preliminary engineering work for all of the General DataComm property and the property at the corner of Maple and Water streets, known as Parcel C.

“There are things you need, like engineering borings to find out what’s under the ground for structural reasons. There’s always an environmental remediation confirmation study and a remediation plan, and a special type of survey that’s required,” Migani said.

Migani said his company also submitted a predevelopment loan application to the DECD in December. This loan would pay for the necessary work needed to submit more applications for grants. The loan would be held by his company, not the borough, he said.
Migani expects to hear from the DECD about the loan in February.

The next round of applications for funding is due in June, Migani said. But before he can apply, he said, the project has to be approved by borough boards, and market and financial analysis studies need to be completed.

Planning Commission Chairman Anthony Whelan said the commission would be willing to speed up the approval process and hold special meetings if need be so Migani can meet the deadlines.

Migani said the project is being broken down into four phases in order to make it easier to obtain funding.

“In total it’s an $80 million project, and there is no way we’re going to do that in one lump. We’re not in Manhattan where a single penthouse in the new building next to the [Museum of Modern Art] goes for $95 million,” Migani said.

Migani said the first phase would include the construction of the apartments and the studio space on the third floor and the creation of a residential elevator lobby. The first phase would also include improvements to the exterior of the building and the removal of the current façade that was installed in 1986.

“We’ve got to take that off and basically restore it to what it was in 1955,” Migani said.

Migani said if the first phase continues as planned and receives funding, construction should commence by the late spring of 2016.

Whelan questioned what would happen if there were not enough artists to fill all the apartments.

Migani said an extensive marketing study will be done over the next three months to figure out the demand for the apartments. Migani is confident, however, that once the apartments start to fill and a community of artists is built, there would be more applicants than apartments.

Although the focus for the first phase is the third floor, Migani and the borough have been working to secure a tenant for the second floor office space.

Migani said for the past year the borough has been working with a national company, which he was not able to name, that is interested in the entire second floor of the building. If the company chooses to move its operations to Naugatuck, the timeline on the project would be expedited and funding would be easier to secure, Migani said.

“The state said to us, ‘If you get a lease from a healthy corporate client to take the whole second floor then your project is a slam dunk and we’ll have no problem giving you all the money you want,’” Migani said.

While the project has been sparking interest on the state level, Migani told the commission that it will still take a long time to complete all of the phases.

An artist’s rendering of what the General DataComm building on Rubber Avenue in Naugatuck could look like after being renovated into a mixed-use facility under the Art 6 project. –CONTRIBUTED
An artist’s rendering of what the General DataComm building on Rubber Avenue in Naugatuck could look like after being renovated into a mixed-use facility under the Art 6 project. –CONTRIBUTED

“What usually happens is people look for a silver bullet approach to urban revitalization. The attitude is, ‘I’ll bring in a developer, I’ll give him what he needs, he will fix everything and give us a new revitalized downtown.’ Unfortunately that’s not the way economic development works. Successful economic development is incremental, achievable smaller goals over time, which are layered, involve many different actors, and eventually create a moment and synergy of collective effort,” Migani said.

Migani said downtown redevelopment takes the talents of everyone working together for a common good of the municipality.

“That sounds very naïve, I know, but in fact most of the people who live in their community live there by choice. You all live in Naugatuck. You chose to live here. If you wanted to you could leave. What that tells me as a designer is there is an inherent love of place that everyone here has to some degree,” Migani said.

Whelan said he supports a project like Art 6 because it allows people to focus on the community.

“People want to go back to downtown areas and to the town,” Whelan said.

Migani said, despite the enormity of the project, he is glad to have the chance to take it on.

“The worst thing we can do is not try because right now, in the state, there is a perfect storm of funding available for a project just like this,” Migani said.