Consulting firm weighs in on Art6

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NAUGATUCK — A consulting firm voiced concerns and offered advice in a report on the feasibility of transforming a former industrial building downtown into an artist-driven project.

The Minnesota-based Artspace, a national nonprofit organization that specializes in artist-led community transformations, came to Naugatuck in April to evaluate the proposed Art6 project. Artspace detailed its findings in a 16-page report to borough officials.

“The concept of a mixed-use project that combines affordable live-work space for artists and their families with other uses, both arts and non-arts, is valid. Our main concerns have to do with the size of the building and consequently the size of the project. If there is any way to minimize risk at any stage, we recommend taking it. This could involve taking on one more partners, preferably one with deep pockets,” the report states.

In 2014 Seymour-based O’Riordan Migani Architects, led by architect Joseph Migani, proposed converting the 320,000-square-foot former General DataComm building at 6 Rubber Ave. into a mixed-used development that included dozens of apartments for working artists and studio space.

The borough granted O’Riordan Migani Architects exclusive development rights for six months in October. However, earlier this month, borough officials chose not to renew the option mostly due to concerns that state and federal grants and loans Migani was seeking were not coming through.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the Artspace report was among the reasons that the borough chose not to extend its contract with Migani.

The $88 million Art6 project would require O’Riordan Migani Architects to obtain a combination of low income housing and federal historic tax credits, federal loans and Department of Housing grants, according to the report.

Migani believes the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation and borough officials have not given him a fair chance to complete his project or raise enough money to make it possible.

Artspace cited the size of project, the lack of commercial commitments and a large volume of unrented space among its concerns with the Art6 plan.

The report states the number of proposed “live-work” units is large for any city, let alone one of 32,000 residents. The report additionally states “the amount of commercial space to be filled is daunting, especially in a community that has a significant vacancy problem in its nearby downtown district.”

Artspace also cited the unknown size of the artist market in that area.

Artspace held focus groups for individual artists and arts organizations and businesses when consultants were in Naugatuck earlier this year. The report states the focus groups were informative, but not particularly well-attended.

“This suggests either that there are not many artists in the area or that [O’Riordan Migani Architects] does not have deep connections in the arts community,” the report states.

The report recommends an arts market survey be done to determine the number of live-work units that Art6 could support.

Migani felt that Artspace’s concerns were fair and his firm had been working to overcome them.

“One of the biggest conclusions I took was the comment that we, as developers, did not have the economic potential to undertake a project of that size,” Migani said. “They identified that we needed to find and solicit an investor with deep pockets.”

Migani said he had found an investor who was planning on becoming involved with the project.

The report states that Migani says he had a pending commitment from a firm that may rent the entire second floor of the building, though it doesn’t want to be the first tenant.

The make the project successful, the report recommends O’Riordan Migani Architects form a long-term consulting relationship with Artspace or another experienced developer of affordable live-work housing for artists; establish formal links with organizations that can help reduce the financial risk; and to explore partnering with a larger developer who has extensive experience in these type of developments.

“[O’Riordan Migani Architects] is a small firm and Art6 is a huge project,” Artspace said.

The Republican-American contributed to this article.