NAUGATUCK — Fairfield developer Alexius Conroy, who’s worked with major stakeholders over the last eight years on the borough’s planned, $710 million downtown revitalization project known as Renaissance Place, sees light at the end of a long tunnel.
He, the borough and the local, quasi-public economic development group have trudged through a “long slog” of red tape, taut investment markets and a deep recession, but he said Tuesday in an address to the joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance that support from key federal legislators, on-site meetings with potential investors and an agreement with Saint Mary’s Health System have all been factors in the slow — but sure, he contends — march toward realizing the mixed use, energy-independent development project.
“There are good things happening,” he said. “It’s a tough world. It’s a tough market. Naugatuck is not the biggest market, and you have to sell it. You know, it’s not New York. It’s not Washington. It’s not Philadelphia. But it has a tremendous amount of value to the people that will be involved in the project. … We’re finally starting to hear responses from people saying ‘Yeah, that might make sense. This is the right location and you’ve got some things going for you here.’
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in April said he’d “do everything in [his] power” to make sure the borough is awarded the public monies it will need to make headway.
“[Lieberman] really believes in Naugatuck,” Conroy said. “He appreciates the history of Naugatuck and the sacrifices that were made by people here, and the fact that the community is depressed at this point in time compared to how it was. He feels its important that he help bring it back to what it could be.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) just last week pledged her support for the project.
“That was very encouraging, to have those two come out and say ‘This I a priority project for us,’” Conroy noted. “That’s a big deal. It’s a very big deal.”
Additionally, he said, some investors have warmed enough to visit the site and talk — though no deals beyond the one with Saint Mary’s have been reached — when previously his efforts were relegated to ineffective office visits.
“We’ve had people come out and have a site visit and start to have a discussion,” Conroy said, “That’s the sort of the kindling that you need to start a fire. Without that, there’s nothing. … That’s a positive indication of what’s been going on.”
Though going has been slow, Mayor Bob Mezzo said it’s important to keep the ball rolling even in tough economic times.
“We’re doing the jobs that are necessary to set us up for when this economy breaks and we’re ready to go, so we won’t say, ‘We’ve sat on our hands for two years,’” he said.
“We have to move things along no matter what the economy is like,” Conroy echoed, “because if you stop, everything stops.”
He, like some borough officials, residents and business owners, is “frustrated” with the project’s sluggishness. But, he said, it’s important to stand together to win the support of the state and federal governments.
“Things are percolating. I wish they were boiling, but they’re not,” he quipped. “But it’s only if we have the united front that we can go to people like Lieberman or DeLauro or the state, and be able to walk in together, shoulder to shoulder, and say ‘This is important. We’re together. We’ve been through eight years of this, and you need to now act.’ That’s what we’ve been saying, and I think we’re finally getting some results.”