Architect brings artistic vision

An aerial view of the General DataComm property in downtown Naugatuck.  –RA ARCHIVE
An aerial view of the General DataComm property in downtown Naugatuck. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Joseph Migani is no stranger to downtown redevelopment.

Migani, an architect and owner of the Seymour-based O’Riodan Migani Architects, played a large role in the redevelopment of downtown Seymour where he has worked on five buildings, including the building that houses his office at 22 Bank St. and a newly constructed 26-apartment senior housing building.

Migani said he began his work in downtown Seymour in the mid-1990s when he noticed how many vacant historic buildings there were.

“We have used Seymour as a laboratory and had a wonderful time over the last 20 years,” Migani said.

Seymour Economic Development Director Fred Messore said Migani helped create the antiques district within the town through his work in the downtown area.

“He’s done a wonderful job. Since he’s an architect by trade he kept the essence and integrity of the original structures,” Messore said. “They are a beautiful compliment to the beautiful downtown New England area we’ve created here.”

Migani, who lives in Woodbridge, is now looking to bring his experience and vision to Naugatuck.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses this month granted Migani a six-month option to develop and purchase the General DataComm building at 6 Rubber Ave. and 2.5 acres of land known as Parcel A in downtown.

Migani said his vision for the Naugatuck project is different than what he’s done in Seymour and on a grander scale.

Migani plans to build 96 studio-style, affordable housing apartments for artists on the third and fourth floor of the four-floor, 80,000-square-foot former industrial building. The plan also calls for office space on the second floor of the building and a mix of retail and parking for the first floor.

“The sum total of our experience has led us to propose an arts and culture collaborative there which has the advent of enhancing quality of life and have a local and regional draw,” Migani said. “The keyword is smart-growth. It’s an urban initiative, which means you are trying to move away from suburbs.”

Migani said one of the reasons he was drawn to the General DataComm building is that it was well built and is made of heavy industrial concrete.

“You could drive trucks on this thing on any floor. It speaks of the significance of Naugatuck as an innovative center of manufacturing,” Migani said.

Migani was also attracted to the borough and the old Uniroyal site specifically because of its historical significance.

“They pioneered the patents for most of the things we take for granted today, including rubber souls for shoes,” Migani said.

Migani said the project would help Naugatuck become the reverse of suburbanization.

“People choose to live in urban areas because there are more amenities. There are movies, restaurants, and more things to do. Next to it you have this beautiful urban acreage,” Migani said.

While the borough currently does not have some of the amenities Migani discussed, he believes they will start to arrive once there is a greater demand for them.

“If we are successful in getting 96 artists into this building you’ll see galleries, restaurants, music venues and bars open,” Migani said.

Migani has a personal stake in the project beyond being the developer. He is also an artist.

Migani studied music theory and composition in college but ultimately chose design as his career path.

“My father was a contractor. It’s in my blood,” Migani said. “The creativity was channeled into building because it’s in my blood.”

Migani said he decided to propose the idea of an arts and culture collaborative as a way to pay homage to Naugatuck’s past without being stuck in what the borough once was.

“It recognizes Naugatuck is no longer the industrial powerhouse it once was. It is transitioning into a bedroom community. Those who are commuting to work would prefer to work locally,” Migani said.

Migani believes once the project is complete it will create an artists’ community that will have a regional draw.

“This will bring people to work and live here from all over New England,” Migani said.

As Migani gets to work, he wants people to know that he’s not going into this project without any knowledge of how to obtain funding or carrying a project like this to fruition.

“This is based on our experience of funding and doing projects in Seymour,” Migani said.
He added, “Our goal is to make this project so attractive as an economic development project in Naugatuck that it resonates statewide and convinces the powers that be they want to be involved.”

Migani said he first has to seek out zoning approval for the project and will then begin to work towards obtaining pre-development loans for the soft costs, which includes an environmental analysis, a site survey and a marketing study.

“We’ll be crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s,” Migani said. “We will do our due diligence.”

If everything goes has planned, Migani said a shovel will be in the ground in 18 months. Once construction starts it will be completed in different phases and Migani expects it to take three years minimum for the project to be completed.

For now though, he’s taking it one step at a time.

“You crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. You have to create a catalyst for change, like growing a garden. You till it, weed it, nurture it, it grows, and then you have a harvest,” Migani said.