Vision for downtown revitalization remains
NAUGATUCK — Months after the borough’s contract with developer Alexius Conroy expired, Naugatuck is clear to start again on a new path to downtown revitalization.
Conroy, Mayor Robert Mezzo, and the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation signed an agreement last week that releases each party from the original contract signed five years ago.
The agreement allows the borough to develop other ideas for downtown revitalization without the possibility that Conroy will sue over the loss of his preferred developer status, Mezzo said.
On May 8, 2007 the borough entered into a contract with Conroy that gave him exclusive rights to develop a $707 million downtown revitalization project known as Renaissance Place. The project envisioned a mixed-use development, including offices, retail, a medical facility, and residential units on a 66-acre parcel downtown.
However, during the economic recession, Conroy lost many of the financial backers that were going to be a part of Renaissance Place. The contract expired on May 8 this year. Since Conroy had been unable to break ground on any project, the borough decided not to renew it.
NEDC Chairman Jay Carlson explained that for the last four months the borough, the NEDC, and Conroy worked to come up with a release from the contract that included language that all parties were comfortable with.
Mezzo, Carlson, and Conroy issued a joint statement on the release Tuesday.
“The relationship between all parties to the development has been strong and honorable throughout many years of collaboration,” the statement said.
With the Renaissance Place project having come to an end, the borough has its eyes set on the future.
“The next step is, at some point in the very near future, the NEDC will be putting out [request for proposals] for the downtown area and see who is interested in getting involved,” NEDC Carlson said.
Mezzo said it’s too early to speculate when the RFP would go out and what direction the project would take.
Both Carlson and Mezzo said that the NEDC and borough remain committed to the smart-growth development of Naugatuck’s downtown area.
“We haven’t changed our vision of what we want to see downtown Naugatuck turn into; a mixed-use development where people can live, work, and shop,” Carlson said.
Mezzo said if the borough just wanted big box stores to move in, it could have done that before entering into the contract with Conroy. However, he felt that is not the correct direction for Naugatuck to take.
“That doesn’t create a vibrant community,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo explained the borough is looking to downtown development in other towns, such as Blue Black Square in West Hartford, for inspiration while staying focused on Naugatuck.
“We look to a lot of communities for inspiration, but it is important to understand your own community when you seek to put together a project,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo said Naugatuck’s downtown could be like Blue Back Square with a train station. However, he said, that it would be naïve to think just copying another town would yield the same results.
“There is not a way to replicate another community’s successes or failures but to learn from them,” Mezzo said.
Now that the contract with Conroy is completely dissolved, Carlson said the borough and NEDC can start again on revitalizing downtown.
“Now we all have to collectively sit down and figure out what direction we’re going in,” Carlson said. “It will happen over the next few months. We aren’t going to jump into things haphazardly.”
A message left with Conroy seeking comment was not returned as of this post.