NAUGATUCK — Standing atop a four-story former factory building where workers once produced internationally-known Keds sneakers, Naugatuck officials look across swaths of desolate downtown real estate.
They stand on a largely vacant building. There’s a 5-acre parking lot, mostly empty. Farther out, they can see nothing but dirt at the corner of Maple and Water streets that locals have long touted as prime for commercial development.
Despite the seemingly bleak landscape, all three men say they see potential.
Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation Chairman Jay Carlson, the corporation’s president and chief executive officer, Ron Pugliese, and Mayor Robert Mezzo cannot yet plan for a shovel in the ground, but they see promise.
It appears they have reason to believe. Naugatuck may be closer than anytime in the past 30 years to finally renovating a downtown once dominated by the now-defunct rubber and chemical companies that owned 35 buildings spread across 87 acres here.
Officials are in discussions with at least four different investors. Collectively, they have plans to build:
A medical office complex and restaurant on Parcel C, the corner of Maple and Water streets.
A mixed-use, commercial and residential complex using alternative energy solutions on Parcel B, the parking lot abutting the former General DataComm building at 6 Rubber Ave.
An arts community with studio apartments for career artists at Parcel A, the GDC building, corporate offices on the second floor, parking, performance space and support retail on the first floor.
An upscale Italian restaurant at the former train station on Water Street.
While the projects are in the early planning stages, they have created a buzz in the community about the potential to revive the former factory properties downtown. The excitement has soothed disappointment over the failed Renaissance Place development proposal, which had been planned between 2005 and 2012. That ambitious public-private partnership was touted as a four-phase, $710 million mixed-use development that would include storefronts, condominiums, office space, a movie theater and possibly a hotel.
Officials pulled the plug in September 2012 after the developer they worked with, Fairfield resident Alexius Conroy, could not muster the money he needed.
“A lot of the diligence that was put forth toward Renaissance Place has been used to re-engage the process since we parted ways with Mr. Conroy,” Mezzo said. “And while it’s never a quick process and there are lots of complexities along the way, we did expect that ultimately there would be interest downtown when the economy recovered to a level sufficient enough to prompt investors to consider developing again.”
Mezzo said Pugliese, a former burgess and well-known local political figure in Naugatuck who is retired after a successful lobbying career, has done a tremendous job since being hired in August 2013.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in activity since he’s been here and I don’t think that is just coincidence,” Mezzo said. “His contacts are enormous. … This is not a knock on our previous president who did a fantastic job particularly in our industrial park, keeping businesses here and helping them expand. And I don’t want anyone to think that NEDC is just for downtown development because Ron also works to protect our corporate base and interact with manufacturers who make up the backbone of our economy.”
Pugliese said there is a full team of people — Democrats and Republicans, politicians and local business owners — working to improve economic development.
“The best thing the borough ever did … was taking control of the parcels downtown,” he said.
Pugliese said he is confident. “I don’t think people realize how deep that recession (of 2008) was going to be,” he said. “It wasn’t a local or U.S. recession — it was a recession worldwide. It affected a lot of things and it took a long time to get back on track but things are now improving.”
The following is a look at where proposed developments downtown stand, according to borough officials:
Parcel A (former GDC building)
Owner: Borough of Naugatuck
Purchase: By borough in 2013 for $2 million, with Parcel B
Current status: The borough is under option with a developer with a purchase and sales agreement pending. The planning approval has been granted. It is pending review by the Zoning Commission. There is a pre-development loan pending with the state and a market feasibility study will be conducted this month.
Developer: Art6, LLC (Migani and O’Riordan Architects of Seymour)
Building: Four floors (80,000 square feet per floor, roof and basement)
Proposed use: 96 residential artist lofts (third and fourth floors), 80,000-square-foot corporate office on the second floor, parking, performance space and support retail on the first floor and a roof garden
Purchase price (from the borough): $2 million (negotiable)
Estimated start date: 2016 for artist lofts (corporate tenant variable at this time)
Parcel B (parking lot near GDC on Old Firehouse Road)
Purchased: By borough in 2013 for $2 million with Parcel A
Current Status: Under option with developer
Developer: Benjamin Zitron, chief executive officer for the New Haven-based Sustainable Development Corp.
Purchase price and estimated start date to be determined.
Parcel C (corner of Maple and Water streets)
Owner: Borough of Naugatuck
Current status: The borough has option agreement with developer with a purchase and sales agreement pending. There have been preliminary discussions with land use boards.
Developer: Oris, In., and The Lombard Group, LLC
Proposed use: 30,000-square-foot medical office building with Saint Mary’s Hospital as the anchor tenant and a 5,000 square foot restaurant pad site
Purchase price: $150,000
Estimated start date: Late summer/early fall 2015
Naugatuck train station
Owner: Borough of Naugatuck
Purchased: By borough for $500,000 in 1997
Current status: Purchase and sales agreement pending. Local legislative referral was made to the Planning Commission per state statute
Developer: Umbero Morale, formerly of Tula Restaurant in Monroe
Building: 12,140 square feet, designed by famed architect Henry Bacon in approximately 1910
Proposed use: Upscale, full-service restaurant with an outdoor seating area
Purchase price: $400,000
Improvements: Approximately $500,000 minimum
Estimated start date: Summer 2015
Note: The Connecticut Department of Transportation is thinking about moving its train station closer to Parcel B. And environmental cleanup work needs to be done on some of these parcels before development can begin.