NAUGATUCK — Almost five years after the borough signed an agreement with developer Alexius Conroy to build a $710 million mixed-use development called Renaissance Place on 60 acres along the Naugatuck River, no proverbial shovel has hit the ground.
That, according to the development agreement, could be a problem.
The agreement between the borough and Conroy, which then-mayor Ronald San Angelo signed on May 8, 2007, carries a provision that the deal will end if privately-funded construction does not begin within five years, barring an uncontrollable circumstance.
Conroy, Mayor Robert Mezzo and members of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. said they have been working on revising the agreement, but none would comment on specific changes that are being considered, citing ongoing legal negotiations. The Board of Mayor and Burgesses would need to approve any alterations to the agreement.
All aspects of the development agreement are open to negotiation, including the scope and timeline of the project, said attorney Gary O’Connor of Pullman & Comley in Hartford, who represents the borough’s economic development arm.
“The appetite for real estate development at this time really hasn’t come back, so all the parties recognize the new realities and are in the middle of negotiations,” O’Connor said. “The borough and NEDC understand the terms of the agreement and want to assure that the project is a development that incorporates the best elements of Conroy’s original plan, including residential and commercial development, smart growth and a transit-oriented district.”
Phase I of the project, which is supposed to contain a medical office facility and a 500-space parking garage on the corner of Maple and Water Streets, could break ground next year, said David Prendergast, CEO of the NEDC. Conroy is still in negotiations with Saint Mary’s Hospital, which would anchor the facility.
Conroy said the proposed merger between Saint Mary’s and Waterbury Hospital is a positive thing for the project, although it has slowed negotiations because hospital officials are busy trying to get the necessary approvals for the merger.
The merger could mean doctors from both hospitals would use the borough’s medical complex, increasing demand for the space, Conroy said.
“The end result will be better than it was before,” Conroy said. “There are just more moving parts.”
Melting snow and the summer’s heavy rains have created a large pool of water on Parcel C, where the medical facility and parking garage are set to be built. The borough is gathering price estimates for the installation of a small drain there, said Director of Public Works James Stewart, adding that he did not think the water presented a major problem.
“People have expressed concerns about mosquitoes, is the only thing I’ve heard,” Stewart said. “Once we get a price, then we’ll make a decision whether it’s worth it or not.”
The borough is also proposing that Building 25, the abandoned building between Parcel C and Town Hall, be used as incubator space for the medical office complex. The Naugatuck Historical Society and the NEDC are still planning on moving to the building, which will cost $2.5 million to renovate, Prendergast said.
Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, which was once interested in opening a black box theater in the building, backed out about a year ago because it did not have enough money from a state grant to pay for its share of renovations, Prendergast said.
“They have obligated some of that grant funding to renovations and work where they are, so they are really not in a position to participate,” Prendergast said.
The borough has about $500,000 to renovate the building from a state grant and a Historical Society fundraising drive, and applied last month for a federal grant, Mezzo said.
Conroy said he is still negotiating with General DataComm to buy its riverside property, where much of the project’s residential and retail elements are supposed to go.
The property will have to be cleaned of toxins in the soil, and the borough is working to run a remediation plan by GDC before submitting it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mezzo said.
The borough also has commissioned an environmental assessment of the train station, which is currently under way, with a $50,000 state grant, Mezzo said. The local Council of Governments should also respond within two months to a $354,000 grant application for a traffic study and pedestrian bridge between the train station and the parking garage, Mezzo said.
“Whether or not Renaissance Place ever looks like the pretty drawings of 2003 is uncertain, given the new world that has emerged during this recession, but the principles of smart growth remain, and we’ve been very conscious of doing all the things we can given this economic climate,” Mezzo said.