NAUGATUCK — The borough may be nearing a make-or-break point with the Renaissance Place downtown revitalization project.
Concerns about the project are coming to a head over a proposed medical building on the corner of Maple and Water Streets, the success of which could determine Alexius Conroy’s relationship with the borough and the project’s future.
The development agreement Conroy signed in 2007 with the borough and the Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. carries a provision that the deal will end if privately-funded construction does not begin before next May, the agreement’s five-year anniversary. Conroy is still trying to get Saint Mary’s Hospital to occupy the medical building which, complemented by a 500-space parking garage to be built by the borough, is planned as the project’s first phase.
Even if ground is not broken on the medical building by May, NEDC Chairman Jay Carlson said, he is willing to continue the agreement if Conroy has signed a contract with the Waterbury-based hospital for a structure of at least 30,000 square feet.
“If the Saint Mary’s project is not under contract … I would be remiss in my role to recommend that we move forward,” Carlson said. “Alex is aware of that.”
Saint Mary’s CEO Chad Wable said last month that hospital officials had not committed to anchoring the medical facility, which was originally proposed to include 48,000 square feet. The hospital is only considering occupying 15,000 square feet, which would be too small to warrant the proposed ramp garage, NEDC members said.
Mayor Robert Mezzo, the NEDC and Conroy are all working to revise the 2007 agreement; any changes would have to be approved by the Board of Mayor and Burgesses as well as the NEDC and Conroy.
Allowing the agreement with Conroy to continue if he has a contract but has not begun construction might constitute a matter of interpretation, rather than a change to the contract, Carlson said.
Residents and officials have voiced frustration over the pace of the project, which was supposed to break ground in 2008, and some say Conroy’s failure to produce visible results is part of the problem.
“We’ve provided the platform, the referendum, the development agreement,” NEDC member Chester Cornacchia said. “We’ve worked with this guy and been very, very patient with him. … I think we all started off with the best intentions. I just think at some point you gotta wake up and smell the roses.”
Estimated to cost $710 million, Renaissance Place was proposed as a mixed-use development on 60 acres along the Naugatuck River containing residential, retail, entertainment and office space. To prepare for the project, the borough changed zoning laws and its municipal development plan, conducted environmental studies and cleaned Parcel C, the brownfield where the medical facility and garage would go. The borough’s efforts have cost millions, mostly funded by state and federal grants. Conroy has also spent an undisclosed amount of money on studies and legal fees.
If Conroy does secure a contract with Saint Mary’s, the development agreement could be extended for another 10 years, after which the project should be completed, Carlson said.
“It’s not going to be a carte-blanche agreement as we currently have,” Carlson said. “It would be stricter on timelines and deliverables, just because we want to regain the confidence of people in town to show that we’re moving forward and Alex is the guy that’s going to make it happen.”
An end to the agreement with Conroy would not kill the plan to redevelop downtown, NEDC members said. Although he does not own the land involved in Renaissance Place, Conroy has exclusive rights to develop it while the agreement lasts. If it expires, the borough could look for several developers to build components of an overall “smart growth” project with the same goals as Renaissance Place, Cornacchia said.
“Either way, we still have the mechanisms in place to make sure we don’t sell out our downtown to a Super Walmart,” Cornacchia said.
Mezzo has not brought a proposal before the borough board to extend the agreement with Conroy, and declined to comment more specifically than that, citing ongoing negotiations.
“We’re hopeful that Renaissance Place can still come to fruition, but we’re certainly not blind to the reality that progress has been slow, and the world is very different than the one in which the project was originally envisioned,” Mezzo said. “We still believe that smart-growth planned development is the right vision for the future of downtown.”