Picking through the remnants

A vacant room on the first floor of the former General DataComm building on Rubber Avenue in Naugatuck is now primarily used for storage. –LUKE MARSHALL
A vacant room on the first floor of the former General DataComm building on Rubber Avenue in Naugatuck is now primarily used for storage. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Wayne Malicki stood outside the former General DataComm building downtown on the morning of Oct. 8 waiting to get in to see what, if any, remnants of the building’s former life piqued his interest.

Malicki, a trustee with the Naugatuck Elks Lodge 967 and former exalted ruler of the lodge, wanted to see if there was any furniture left over he could pick up for the lodge.

“There are a few pieces of furniture that we could use. Things like desks, some filing cabinets, possibly some storage,” Malicki said.

When borough Controller Robert Butler arrived, he led Malicki through all four floors of the 320,000-square-foot building at 6 Rubber Ave., looking over desks, chairs and filing cabinets.

Although portions of the building have been vacant for a number of years, the office supplies and furniture scattered about gave the impression that employees were out to lunch. But, on closer inspection, the age of the equipment provided a clearer picture. Green monochrome cathode monitors, reel-to-reel projectors with employee training film spools still loaded in them, and floppy discs for programs that are long outdated dotted the vacant landscape of the building.

Saturday wasn’t the first time Butler led someone through one of these types of equipment-purchasing tours.

After buying the building and the adjacent 7-acre parking lot in 2013 for $2 million, the borough allowed its departments to go through the building and claim items, such as chairs and desks, they could use. Recently, the borough opened the building up to companies and nonprofit organizations, such as the Elks, to come in and purchase items.

Naugatuck is doing this as officials prepare the property for its next life.

The building and lot, known as Parcels A and B locally, are critical pieces to the redevelopment of downtown. The parcels were part of developer Alexius Conroy’s now defunct Renaissance Place project before the borough bought them.

The borough had been working with the Seymour-based O’Riordan Migani Architects on a plan to convert the building into a mixed-used development that included dozens of apartments for working artists and studio space until this project, known as Art6, fell through last summer.

Now, the borough envisions the land as part of a new, transit-oriented downtown.

In October 2015, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved an agreement with Benjamin Zitron to develop the land.  The plan calls for Zitron’s New Haven-based Sustainable Development Corp. to building 100,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet of commercial and/or retail space and between 250 and 350 residential units on the parcels.

Under the agreement, Zitron will buy the property from the borough for $4 million. He is expected to take ownership of the land by June 2017. However, since approving the agreement, the project has been slow to build momentum.

The borough is working with the Department of Transportation to move the train platform from its current location at 195 Water St. to the GDC parking lot. Moving the train platform is a key step in developing the transit-oriented project, officials have said.

Before the station can be moved or building can start on the lot, however, the borough has to remediate the property.

The property used to serve as the former Uniroyal factory, which produced rubber goods. Due to the nature of work that went on at that property, both the groundwater and the soil are contaminated, according to officials.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the borough is working the Department of Environment and Energy Protection to finalize a remediation plan. He expects to meet with Zitron, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environment and Energy Protection, the Department of Housing, and the Department of Economic and Community Development in November to discuss the project.

“All four state agencies have an interest in the project and we will be meeting with them to keep a constant flow of progress,” Hess said.