Deadline draws near on Renaissance Place contract

The contractual deadline for developer Alexius Conroy to begin construction of the Renaissance Place project is May 8. The project called for a medical facility to be built on Parcel C, pictured above, in downtown Naugatuck but no movement has been made towards its construction. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Five years ago Fairfield-based developer Alexius Conroy, the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation and the Board of Mayor and Burgesses entered into an agreement to develop Renaissance Place.

That contract is coming to an end next month.

The agreement gave Conroy exclusive rights to build a mixed-use development of residential units, retail, offices, and restaurants on the 66 acres that run along the Naugatuck River downtown.

The agreement took place in 2007, shortly before the economic downturn. Since then, Conroy has been unable to find investors willing to back his planned projects. The agreement gave Conroy five years to begin privately funded construction of any portion of the project and is set to expire on May 8.

NEDC Chair Jay Carlson said if Conroy had a shovel in the ground and buildings were being built, the NEDC would discuss the possibility of renewing his contract.

“He has done everything he could, but, due to the nature of the economy, he has not been able to move from concepts to actual structures,” Carlson said.

Carlson explained that the agreement was not ending due to any negativity between the town and Conroy.

“I think Alex had all intentions to do what he had outlined and no one could predict the economic environment that hit us,” NEDC CEO David Prendergast said. “I think he tried his best in a very difficult economy to put the pieces together.”

Conroy did not return a message seeking comment.

Carlson said the NEDC’s job is to grow the grand list and protect the interests of the town. Without any movement forward on construction of Renaissance Place, the NEDC feels allowing the contract to expire could be in the best interest of the town, he said.

Carlson said the NEDC has not talked about or entertained the prospect of another developer. It will honor the agreement with Conroy up until the date it expires, he said.

Carlson said that if the deadline passes without Conroy breaking ground, the NEDC will take time to decide which way it wants to go. He felt the idea of a mixed-use development remains the best direction for downtown to head.

An end to the agreement would mean Conroy would lose exclusive rights to the project, but the NEDC could still entertain any of his development proposals, Carlson said.

Pieces of the borough’s downtown could be parceled out to multiple developers who would build toward the same vision of a transit-oriented, energy-efficient downtown with all the same components as Renaissance Place, officials said.

Aside with the economic woes facing the country, the project appeared to have it a snag when Conroy and St. Mary’s Hospital couldn’t agree on the role of the hospital in the project.

The cornerstone of Renaissance Place was going to be a medical center with an adjacent parking garage, located along Maple Street, behind the Whittemore Memorial Library. The plot of land is currently a brownfield site.

Saint Mary’s only wants 15,000 square feet, an amount that reflects the size of its walk-in clinic on New Haven Road combined with other affiliated doctors’ offices throughout the borough. Conroy, however, would have to build a 30,000-square-foot building to justify the parking garage, which the borough hoped to build with state grant funding, according to borough officials and NEDC members.

The hospital cannot fill more office space while the rest of Renaissance Place remains inactive because the offices would not be supported by the demand the other components, such as condominiums, were supposed to create, said Joseph Connolly, a spokesman for Saint Mary’s Hospital.

“Saint Mary’s always saw ourselves as one part of a much larger project, but not the only part of the project,” Connolly said.

Although the contract may be reaching its end, over the past five years the borough has completed and put in place many of the needed plans, studies and zone changes to begin redeveloping downtown.

As the borough prepares to move forward, Mayor Robert Mezzo said he would like to see smart growth and transient oriented development for the downtown area rather than urban sprawl and sporadic growth.

The Republican American contributed to this article.