Project on 150-acre site would bring 1,000 jobs to Waterbury

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This map, included in Waterbury’s request for proposals, outlines the boundaries of 154-acres of city-owned land in Waterbury and Naugatuck which Waterbury is hoping to develop for commercial or industrial use. The main goal is to increase taxes and jobs. Contributed

WATERBURY — A development proposed for a roughly 150-acre site straddling Waterbury’s southern border with Naugatuck would bring more than 1,000 full-time jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue, Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said last Friday.

“This is the best news we’ve had in this city for 20 years,” O’Leary said of a proposal for the city-owned property. “It benefits the city in many different ways, employment, grand list growth. … It is a game-changer for this city.”

O’Leary said a committee reviewing proposals forwarded by two developers has picked its favorite and negotiations for a sale are advancing well.

O’Leary said the proposed development is worth “hundreds of millions” of dollars. He said he can’t name the developer behind it or the tenant that would occupy the finished site, citing ongoing negotiations.

Connecticut law allows municipalities to withhold details of development offers to municipalities while negotiations are ongoing.

O’Leary said he wants residents to know a promising deal is underway, and that further details will be released within weeks if negotiations keep their current trajectory.

“I say this with a lot of caution,” O’Leary said. “We have had numerous discussions with the developer. We are very enthusiastic, but we are also in the early stages here. I can’t emphasis this enough, this is a massive investment.”

In addition to a purchase agreement, both sides are also working on a limited time tax deal.

The property sits within a state “enterprise zone,” as well as a federally designated “opportunity zone.” Both designations carry the ability to tap into tax programs designed to incentivize needed development.

THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT would be among the top four taxpayers in the city, and possibly the single largest private employer, O’Leary said.

Successive city administrations have sought to develop the wooded property, with ideas including a casino, a dog track, a mall and others.

None came to fruition due to two big challenges. The property is laced with sharp changes in topography. That’s a challenge to the creation of a flat, buildable surface.

Access has been the second big challenge. The property has extremely steep slopes toward Baldwin Street and South Main Street – main arterial roads in that area of Waterbury.

O’Leary and Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess solved that challenge by collaborating. The municipalities jointly paid $390,000 for a 10.5-acre property at the end of Great Hill Road in Naugatuck, which will allow for an access to be cut into Naugatuck’s industrial park.

In 2018, the state authorized a $2.8 million grant to defray the cost of building that road and installing utility lines into the property. Officials have held off on the work to tailor the road and utilities to whatever user is ultimately selected.

WATERBURY AND NAUGATUCK have agreed to evenly split resulting tax revenue. The city would keep all proceeds of sale of the land it owns on either side of the border.

Once the details of a purchase agreement are settled, the developer and municipal officials will hold meetings for residents to address any questions from people who live in proximity of the site, O’Leary said.

O’Leary said the property can support a commercial or industrial building of up to 1 million square feet. Both proposals are below that maximum threshold.

From left, Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess addresses U.S. Sen Chris Murphy, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty in 2018 at Waterbury City Hall during a rail forum to discuss improving service to the Waterbury branch of Metro-North Railroad. REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN archive

This is the O’Leary administration’s second attempt to secure a development for the property.

In 2020 a single response was returned to the city’s first advertisement for the property.

Shelton-based developer R.D. Scinto proposed to build a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, bringing 300 full-time jobs to the area with expansion to come later. Given the difficult topography, the developer proposed to obtain the property for just $1. The benefit to the city would be purely in jobs and tax revenue.

O’Leary scrapped that proposal in June after more than a year had passed without a development deal being finalized.

A new “request for proposals” was issued, and two companies submitted by the Sept. 9 deadline.

O’Leary said the preferred development offers “good-paying” jobs with benefits equal to those of Waterbury municipal employees.

O’Leary credited the city’s ongoing marketing campaign with securing development interest, and the newly formed Naugatuck Valley Regional Development Corp. with shepherding the proposal along. Mayor Hess has been a key player, O’Leary said.

The marketing effort and its resulting website, TheWaterbury.com, are responsible or drawing a new Amazon distribution center to the city’s East End, O’Leary said. It has also prompted development inquiries for brownfields the city is clearing off South Main Street and Freight Street, O’Leary said.

O’Leary said construction on the 150-acre parcel could begin within a year. The project would likely take two to three more years to complete, he said.