NAUGATUCK — Economic possibilities and potential roadblocks were the subjects of conversation during the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation’s 10th Annual Meeting Nov. 20.
In 1983, Ron Pugliese was appointed chairman of the first Downtown Revitalization Committee to look at ways the borough could move forward after Uniroyal closed. Thirty years later, Pugliese is now CEO of the NEDC at a time when downtown revitalization is once again a topic in the forefront of the mind of Naugatuck residents.
The borough put its hope for downtown revitalization on developer Alex Conroy and the Renaissance Place project in 2003. However, the borough’s contract with Conroy expired last year without a shovel in the ground.
The borough has taken steps towards a revival downtown including buying the General DataComm property on Rubber Avenue. With the property, the borough now owns close the 16 acres of land downtown, which officials say makes the process easier because developers will deal directly with the borough instead of a third party.
The NEDC is currently reviewing expressions of interest from developers regarding downtown redevelopment.
“Today we are looking at and studying several proposals, and soon the 2013 Downtown Committee and the NEDC will make a recommendation to our board and eventually to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses. And yes, we will finish the job that began 30 years ago,” Pugliese said.
Pugliese told those who gathered at the Naugatuck Historical Society for the meeting the borough made a wise decision in purchasing the General DataComm property, which he called an anchor of the future for downtown Naugatuck.
“We are working on proposals that include the GDC building. Without going into any premature detail proposals, what we are looking at includes renovation and reuse of this building,” Pugliese said.
Part of the work going on at the property is finding a new location for A Better Way Auto and the cars parked along the parcel, Pugliese said. The dealership wants to expand, he said.
“We are working with them to find a suitable space in town, and to remove from downtown cars that are temporarily parked there. That effort is ongoing and hopefully, before long, we will come to a mutually beneficial resolution,” Pugliese said.
Aside from downtown, Pugliese added there has been a lot of activity in the Naugatuck Industrial Park.
Pugliese said the borough and Coca Cola Bottling Company, which bottles and ships a variety of Coca Cola products out of a building in the park, have been in talks about the company’s long range plans. He added Ram Welding was a beautiful addition to the industrial park several years ago.
“It is also a great example of a business that started small, grew and expanded into the industrial park. We are exploring with them future potential plans,” Pugliese said of Ram Welding.
Pugliese said zoning changes which allow larger lots in the industrial park to be subdivided are starting to catch the attention of businesses, including Miracle Industries. He said the business owns property in the industrial, but moved to Winsted several years ago.
“They are considering coming back to the industrial park to take advantage of a move by the town that would allow lot subdivision to build a new building on their site,” Pugliese said.
Pugliese turned his attention back to downtown pointing to the Pour House, a bar and restaurant which opened in August on Church Street. Pugliese said the opening of the restaurant was an important step for downtown Naugatuck.
“It’s hopefully a harbinger of things to come,” Pugliese said.
Joe Brennan, senior vice president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, spoke after Pugliese and touched on the economic climate in the state.
Brennan said many analysts say that Connecticut will see a slow growth compared to the rest of the country.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody working in Connecticut that we have our economic struggles,” Brennan said.
However, the economy is projected to continue to grow, he said.
As of August, Brennan said, the state has gained back 51 percent of the jobs it lost during the recession. He said the New England Economic Partnership predicts that the state will have 18,700 more jobs in 2014 and 24,700 more jobs in 2015.
The evening marked the first meeting since the creation of the NEDC there was a new CEO in place.
NEDC Chairman Jay Carlson thanked former CEO Dave Prendergast, who retired this year, for all of his hard work throughout the years.
“For the last 10 years Dave Prendergast has been our hired professional and leader of the economic development corporation. He’s taken us to many great places. We’ve had many successes,” Carlson said.
Carlson also welcomed Pugliese, who started in September.
“He has come in moving fast and furiously in a great way,” Carlson said.
Carlson said despite the difficulties pointed out by Brennan, business owners will keep coming to Connecticut and to the borough.
“Connecticut has its challenges. But the reason everybody is here this evening is that we believe in Connecticut, we believe in Naugatuck,” Carlson said.