Event center carves out niche in borough

People make their way through the Naugatuck Event Center during a car show last year. –FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — When borough officials first showed Don Clady the former General DataComm building downtown, it was just a warehouse filled with empty offices — not a place that could host a car show.

“They took an old, rundown warehouse and turned it into a moneymaker and partnered with me to bring revenue back into the town,” said Clady, the creator and founder of Connecticut Cruise News.

Clady has been working with the borough since officials first thought of turning the former General DataComm building at 6 Rubber Ave. into a place to host events. The Naugatuck Event Center opened its doors in March 2017, and the debut show was a Cabin Fever Indoor Custom Car and Motorcycle Show run in collaboration with Clady.

Since the event center opened, Clady’s company has hosted five shows and two internal fundraisers in Naugatuck. He said one of the things that makes the event center an ideal place for shows is its proximity to Interstate 84 and Route 8.

“The location is perfect,” Clady said.

Over the past 14 months, the center has hosted a wide range of events, including a petting zoo and Easterseals’ annual Chocolate and Food Festival. The Connecticut Food Bank Mobile Pantry also comes to the center once a month now, and in the winter the Naugatuck High School indoor track and field team used the center for practices.

“We are getting more and more interest. We are working to make the facility better all the time,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said.

The borough purchased the property, which includes the building and adjacent parking lot, for $2 million in 2013. The plan, ultimately, is to turn the property, locally known as parcels A and B, into a transit-oriented development with a mix of commercial and residential uses.

In 2015, the borough entered into an agreement with developer Benjamin Zitron to develop the project. Borough officials have said numerous times that the project is primarily waiting on improvements to the Waterbury Branch Line of the Metro-North Railroad before it begins moving forward.

In the meantime, Hess said he sees no reason for the building to sit unused, and there are plans for many more events.

According to Hess, the facility has events booked through March 2019, including a military memorabilia event, a wing fest, a bridal show, and an art show. Hess added the borough is also eyeing the possibility of bringing in larger concerts to the event center.

Aside from hosting events, the building currently houses offices used by borough Purchasing and Financial Analyst Robert Butler, and there’s also an artist studio in use.

Hess said the borough wants to utilize more of the 374,000-square-foot, four-story building this coming fiscal year.

He said there are plans to expand the office space and also build an entertainment area on the second floor. The entertainment area would be a smaller space for the borough to host musical events or movies. The borough is also working on upgrading the kitchen on the second floor so food could be served in the entertainment area, Hess said.

Hess said the borough has allotted about $5,000 in the 2018-19 budget for the upgrades.

“We have a small amount of money in our budget. But whatever amount we have we are going to make a pretty big splash,” Hess said.

Hess said the borough expects to have the entertainment area operational in the coming fiscal year.

“That is a work in progress, but we are working on it now,” Hess said.

The plans also call for building a “store” on the second floor where old items left behind, like desks, tables and chairs, will be sold. This will be an extension of what the borough is doing already.

Also, Hess said, the back half of the second floor will be used as a warehouse. The borough is in talks with a company that may want to rent the space, he said.

The borough is working with local band A Will Away to build multimedia studios on the third floor of the center. Hess said the band is using its own time and resources to create a photography studio, a recording studio, a video studio and painting studio.

Hess said the band became interested in creating the studios after recording a music video in the building and hearing how the acoustics sounded.

“The acoustics in the building are incredibly good, which probably relates to the fact the building was built to sustain a bombing right after World War II. It is a very solid building and it has incredible acoustics,” Hess said.

Hess said the borough is working on a contract with A Will Away where the band will rent out the studio space to artists and pay some money to the borough. The contract has not been finalized, he said.

A message left with the band wasn’t returned as of press time.

Sound proofing is in the process of being constructed on the third floor of the Naugatuck Event Center to turn a former office into a recording studio. –LUKE MARSHALL

The borough also plans to use the building’s basement as a possible space to rent out storage for cars, Hess said. The borough has no plans for the fourth floor because it has to fix leaks in the roof first, he said.

While hosting shows at the event center this year gave residents something to do and helped attract people to Naugatuck, the original driving force behind the move was to offset the cost of maintaining the building, Butler said.

Even if the borough had not turned the building into an event center, Butler said it would still cost about $175,000 a year in electricity and heat to keep the building in good working order.

Much of the work to turn the building into an event center was done in house. This year, the borough budgeted $179,800 for maintenance and upkeep of the building and $50,000 for event center expenses.

As of early May, Butler said the borough brought in $125,000 in revenue from the event center. He said officials expect to bring in about $200,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

The borough budgeted $204,800 for maintenance and upkeep and $77,000 for expenses in the 2018-19 budget, which was approved last month. The budget estimates the center bringing in $300,000 in revenue in 2018-19.

Hess said the budgeted revenue doesn’t take into consideration the plans for the second floor, third floor and basement.

“They are conservative projections and our plan is to exceed them,” Hess said of the revenue estimates.

As the borough continues making improvements to the center, Hess said everything in the building is on a month-to-month lease since the borough is under contract with Zitron.

“If trains came to Naugatuck tomorrow we would honor our commitment. But while we are waiting for frequent train service to come to fruition, we are going to be attempting to maximize the revenue we are going to get from the building, minimize our expenses, and find some cool things for people do in the building,” Hess said.