NEDC sees big year ahead for economic development

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NAUGATUCK — From large-scale projects to new businesses opening on Church Street, Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Ronald Pugliese sees 2020 as a big year for the borough.

“I think 2020 will be an interesting year for economic development,” said Pugliese during the NEDC’s Annual Meeting Nov. 14.

Two large projects dominated much of the discussion during the meeting — a planned transit-oriented development downtown and the proposed “Port of Naugatuck.”

The Port of Naugatuck is a proposed intermodal transportation hub on the former Uniroyal site off Elm Street. Using the Pan Am Railways line that runs through the site and connects with Portland, Maine, to ship goods via freight train to Naugatuck, where they can be stored in warehouses and loaded on trucks and distributed throughout the tri-state area. Officials also want the site to handle international goods that come into ports in New York and Newark, N.J. The goods would be transported to Naugatuck via truck, go through customs, then be shipped north via freight train.

Many pieces are in place for the project, and officials are seeking millions of dollars from the state and federal government to get it rolling. If it comes to fruition, Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess it would be the only intermodal transportation hub in the state.

“When a container from Maine comes through Connecticut, they go to an intermodal terminal [in another state] and they break down the container and put it in smaller trucks, and those smaller trucks drive right back into Connecticut to distribute the goods,” Hess said.

The planned transit-oriented development project focuses on developing the former General DataComm building — now the Naugatuck Event Center — at 6 Rubber Ave. and the adjacent parking lot into a mixed-use development with commercial, retail and residential components. The properties are known locally as Parcel A and Parcel B, respectively.

Officials have said the project relies on improvements, which some are underway, to the Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad to offer more frequent and reliable train service.

“More frequent train service will make Parcel B very desirable for a transit-oriented development project,” Pugliese said.

Hess said people come to him with ideas of how the borough can improve Parcel B. However, he said the ideas are unattainable without frequent train service.

“They’ll say ‘bring Whole Foods there and it will solve all your problems. Everyone wants Whole Foods.’ That’s great except for one thing, Whole Foods doesn’t want to come here,” Hess said. “Right now, without frequent reliable train service, we don’t have the demographics to support it.”

The borough is also eyeing smaller, but significant projects in the coming year, including a project to reconstruct Rubber Avenue from Elm Street to Melbourne Street. The project, which will be funded mostly through a state grant, will include drainage improvements and new sidewalks and landscaping along the road.

Hess also wants to sell six borough-owned properties on Rubber Avenue, including the recycling center, the former Visiting Nurses Association building, the Park Department building and the Street Department building, to get them developed and back on the grand list.

“Rubber Avenue lost its zip on its fastball some time ago. It needs work,” Hess said.